What Size Shims Should I Use?

One of my co-workers recently fielded a call from a customer, asking, “What is the proper way to size shims under motor feet?”  In other words, if the foot is 6 by 4 inches square, how big should the shim be?

Excellent question!  And one I wasn’t sure how to answer.  I have always tried to pick a shim that was at least 50% of the area of the foot, and more whenever possible.  But I didn’t have any empirical data to back it up, so I did a little research.

Some shim manufacturers (Lawton and Accushim as example) rate their shim sizes by horsepower or frame size of the motor they support.  So if you are using a standard NEMA frame motor, you can look up the right size shim for your application.

But, not every machine being shimmed meets NEMA specs.  So, according to The Shaft Alignment Handbook (J. Piotrowski):

The rule of thumb is provide at least 80% contact between each machined foot and its point of contact on a baseplate, frame, or soleplate” (The Shaft Alignment Handbook, 3rd Edition, p.300). 

I have always tried for a minimum of 50% contact, while making sure the shim is equal around the periphery of the bolt.  In other words, there should be an equal amount of shim all the way around the bolt, except for the slot. 


That being said, one would have to consider not only the physical dimensions of the shim and foot, but also factor in the mass of the machine, and dynamic radial and axial forces imparted to the foot during operation of the machine.  Because a shim in essence makes the foot contact area smaller.  So, I blew the dust off my old Statics book, and found out that the modulus of elasticity for 304 stainless steel is about 11.2 million psi, with a Rockwell hardness of 80B. Translated, it’s pretty hard, tough, and strong!  So, does it really need to be 80%, or even 50% for that matter?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how big a shim should be, relative to the foot.

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  1. John Doe on May 17, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    You would want to be looking at a fatigue curve for the shimming material in question.

    Modulus of elasticity and rockwell hardness are typically much higher than the amount of stress something can withstand for infinite (or very large) number of cycles.

    The difficult thing to do, would be calculating the amount of force on the shim during routine operation. I’m not sure how you would measure that, except maybe with a strain gauge hooked up to a computer.

  2. Stan Riddle on May 18, 2013 at 7:44 am

    I agree John Doe. What are the forces? Mass of the machine is one. Bolt tension would be another. As would any forces imparted from torque forces from startup and running. So, if you increase the area (you a larger shim) we would decrease the forces per square inch. The drawback would be having a larger slot in the pre-cut shim. This could tend to bend the foot, but more importantly, bend the washer.

    Any other thoughts out there?

  3. Bruce Akin on May 22, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    My only concern would be does it affect the reed frequency of the installation IF a smaller foot is introduced.
    over the years i have used several methods of shimming to eliminate “Soft Foot” or allowing for leveling of rotating equipment.

  4. Darren Johnson on September 24, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    In my experience the shim slot should not exceed the hold down fastener by more than .125”. No matter the foot print of the shim. Example; The shims I ordinarily use for my alignments are Aloma shims, and they are sized by hold down bolt size, corresponding with an alphabetical sizing system A, B, C, D et’ et’

  5. Stan Riddle on September 24, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    Thanks Darren! Good suggestion. I would think that your idea would be good practice. Too wide a gap could create “bowing” in the foot when it was tightened, but it would depend on the thickness and material of the foot, and the final torque. But it would be hard to go wrong with your method.

    I do believe a good amount of the foot should be supported by shim.

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