Department of Civil Engineering Soil Mechanics Laboratory

Laboratory Exercise 7: Direct Shear Test
References and Sources:
§ § § § ASTM D3080: “Standard Test Method for Direct Shear Test of Soils under ConsolidatedDrained Conditions”. Bardet, Jean-Pierre. (1997). Experimental Soil Mechanics. Prentice-Hill. Holtz, R.D. Kovacs, William D.

The laboratory handouts for this week include a discussion of shear tests in general, and a specific discussion of the Karol-Wamer shear testing apparatus (which you will be using). These handouts provide a sufficient discussion of the direct shear test.

In addition to the direct shear test, other tests exist for the determination of shear strength of soils. These tests include: § § Triaxial test Simple shear tests: • • • § § Roscoe or Cambridge Norwegian Geotechnical Institute (NGI) Swedish Geotechnical Institute (SGI)

Hollow cylinder triaxial test Directional shear test

The direct shear test is a strain-controlled test: the rate at which the soil will be strained is controlled. A specimen of soil will be placed into a shear box, and consolidated under an applied normal load. The shear box is made of two separate halves, an upper and a lower. After the application of the normal load, these two halves of the be moved relative to one another, shearing the soil specimen on the plane that is the separation of the two halves. The

due to an applied vertical load Pv and a shearing stress. This is commonly known as the Mohr-Coulomb Failure Envelope. or the average locus of points. due to the applied horizontal load Ph.a normal stress. σn. It is usually not corrected for the change in sample area caused by the lateral displacement of the sample under the shear load Ph. the intercept is usually negligible. two values. it has become less popular in recent years. the reason for the large value should be investigated. τ. These stresses are simply Since the shear stress and normal stress have the same significance as when used in a Mohr's circle construction. The advantages of the direct shear test are: 2 . of normal stress and shear stress will be required to obtain a solution. called the "apparent" cohesion. This should be neglected unless it is more than 1 or 2 psi. draw a line through the resulting locus of points. but with the development of the triaxial test which is much more flexible. one may plot on a set of coordinate axes the values of t versus σn from several tests (generally with τ on the ordinate). If the c value is large and the soil is a cohesionless material. For cohesionless soils. rather than solving a series of simultaneous equations for c and tan φ. These stresses should satisfy Coulomb's equation: τ = c + σn tanφ As there are two unknown quantitie s (c and φ) in the above equation. On this plane there are two forces (or stresses) acting .University of Washington Department of Civil Engineering Soil Mechanics Laboratory direct-shear test imposes stress conditions on the soil that force the failure plane to occur at a predetermined location (on the plane that separates the two halves of the box). computed as: σn = Pv/A τ = Ph/A where A is the nominal area of the specimen (or of the shear box). as a minimum. The direct shear test was formerly quite popular. and establish the slope of the line as tan φ and the τ-axis intercept as the c parameter. and Coulomb’s equation becomes τ = σn tanφ Test inaccuracies and surface-tension effects of damp cohesionless materials may give a small value of c.

Failure occurs along a single surface. Difficult or impossible to control drainage. Procedure Each group will perform one direct shear test. 2. Therefore the test is not generally recommended for cohesive soils. each at a specified (unique) normal load. it is imperative that each group set up its specimen at the same density as all other groups. which approximates observed slips or shear type failures in natural soils. Become familiar with the apparatus. Because the drainage conditions during all stages of the test markedly influence the shear strength of soils. some unknown amount of consolidation could occur during shear. which would give a larger shear strength than actual. This density will be specified by the instructor. For clay soils. Because the three groups in each section will be sharing data. Cheap. 2. in order to plot the Mohr-Coulomb Failure Envelope (there will thus be three points on this plot). and the rotation cannot be controlled.especially for sands. Principal stresses are not directly measured. Failure plane is forced--may not be the weakest or most critical plane in the field 3. The principal stresses rotate during shear. the direct shear test is only applicable for relatively clean sands which are free draining during shear.University of Washington Department of Civil Engineering Soil Mechanics Laboratory 1. see figure 1 below. The three groups in each section will then share their data. 4. fast and simple . especially for fine-grained soils. 1. Disadvantages of the test include: 1. Figure 1 – Apparatus and equipment 3 . Non-uniform stress conditions exist in the specimen.

the belofram valve. b) motor control panel direction move…?) ♦ ♦ The direction of travel of all parts of the apparatus The electric motor (on/off switch. Determine the volume of the specimen to be constructed. what are the units. determine which direction is forward and reverse on the motor before assembling specimen. speed). 2. 4 Figure 3 – Locked halves of the shear box . forward/reverse. ♦ the The function of each screw in the shear box.University of Washington Department of Civil Engineering Soil Mechanics Laboratory In particular: ♦ How to apply normal loads (the pressure the indicator. which will it Figure 2 – a) motor. calibration curve. ♦ The measurement the dial indicators are taking (what’s it measuring. see figure 2 a and b above. regulator).

When this is all set up properly. see figure 4a below. It should be sticking up out of the shear box at this point. calculate the mass of sand required to set up the specimen. ♦ ♦ Pour the sand in rather loosely. Place the porous stone on top of the sand. Measure the depth of the shear box. the volume of the prepared specimen may be calculated. Knowing this. When the specimen is setup. Make sure the fixing screws (screws that locks the shear box together) are locked in place and the set screws (screws that adjust the gap space between the shear box halves) are at the bottom of their travel. 5 . Obtain the required mass of sand. Set up the specimen. Knowing the density desired and the volume of the specimen. 5. lock the two halves of the shear box together see figure 3 above. ♦ ♦ ♦ Measure the cross-sectional area of the interior of the shear box. the frictional plate will be at the bottom of the shear box.University of Washington Department of Civil Engineering Soil Mechanics Laboratory ♦ Using the fixing screws. 3. and on top of the sand will be a porous stone. Determine the thickness of the bottom frictional plate and the top porous stone. ♦ Place the bottom frictional plate into the bottom of the shear box with the rough side up. the top of the porous stone should be flush with the top of the shear box. 4. Sand will then be placed on top of this. ♦ ♦ Place the shear box in the direct shear device. and with the above dimensions measured.

Close the belofram check valve and the blow-off valve. Adjust the regulator to the desired air pressure. Remove the fixing screws. Figure 5 – Regulator and valve locations. and the specimen will thus have densified. 15. Be patient. 6. This combined with the initial dial reading you already obtained will allow you to calculate the actual density of the specimen (it will be slightly denser than planned). Adjust all dial gages. You now have a specimen of sand placed at a known density. Lower the reaction bar of the pneumatic loading frame until it just touches the ball bearing. 12. 8.University of Washington Department of Civil Engineering Soil Mechanics Laboratory ♦ Tap on the shear box to densify the sand until the top porous stone becomes flush with the top of the shear box. 9. 13. see figure 4a above 10. see figure 5 below. 7. Record the new vertical displacement dial reading. see figure 4a above. 14. It will have moved. 11. ♦ This may take several attempts to get it just right. Open the check valve. Remove the fixing screws. Place the loading cap and ball bearing on top of the porous stone. see figure 4b above. Use the calibration curve to determine the applied air pressure to achieve the desired normal pressure. check valve in closed position. 6 . Take initial readings at this time. Use the nuts to lock the reaction bar into place. Do not exceed the indicated limit.

Compute the normal stress as σn = Pv / A 3. δ v. Back off the applied normal pressure. Using data from all three groups. 18. and the vertical displacement. ♦ Start the horizontal (shear) loading and take readings of the load. 4. for each observed value. τmax. 17. Adjust the set screws. 7 .University of Washington Department of Civil Engineering Soil Mechanics Laboratory 16. This will separate the two halve of the shear box. turn each ¾ turn clockwise. 5. plot shearing stress against normal stress and show the angle of internal friction. This should be on the same page (same horizontal scale) as the shearing stress vs. c. shear displacement. Compute the shear stress as τ = Ph / A 2. ♦ The shearing is complete when load is determined to be dropping (the residual strength of the soil has been reached). Starting with the set screws at the bottom. φ. Plot shearing stress against horizontal displacement and obtain the maximum value of shearing stress.01 inches of shear (horizontal) deflection—this corresponds to every 10 units on the dial. Plot a graph of normal displacement vs. Compute the horizontal displacement. Calculations 1. Shear the specimen. and vertical displacement dials. dismantle and clean the shear box. and the intercept. shear displacement plot. shear displacement. Take readings every 0. δ h. This separation should be slightly smaller than the largest grains of soil in the sample. 6.

5. State internal angle of friction and cohesion. Visual classification. 4. Plots of shear stress v. Memo-format report. Mohr-Coulomb Failure Envelope. and specifically the manner in which these errors could have affected the results.University of Washington Department of Civil Engineering Soil Mechanics Laboratory Report: 1. 3. Remarks stating any errors associated with the test. specific errors witnessed. horizontal deflection and vertical deflection v. 6. 2. 8 . horizontal deflection on the same page to the same scale.

In order to obtain the effective stress parameters of any soil. The object is to get at least 1 inch of soil sample sandwiched between a layer of filter paper and a porous stone on either side of the sample. the samples should be trimmed carefully down to the internal diameter of the direct shear rings. (undisturbed samples are almost impossible to obtain) the void ratio should be duplicated in the laboratory. The direct shear test can be run on any type of soil sample. under certain circumstances tests can be run under stress controlled conditions. it is necessary to use a slower rate of shearing in order for induced pore pressures to dissipate. Kovacs The use of this piece of equipment is to measure the effective stress parameters of c' and φ'. If the soil 9 . The porous stones provide drainage and are used to distribute the pressure during the test. The remainder of this report presents a discussion on the sample preparation for testing.University of Washington Department of Civil Engineering Soil Mechanics Laboratory The Karol-Wamer Direct Shear Testing Machine Discussion and Procedure Prepared by William D. The direct shear test is normally run as a strain-controlled test. and the water content. Additional data is taken as to the number of the shear ring. and running the direct shear test. but it is particularly adapted to cohesionless materials. equipment preparation. Extrude the soil sample into the locked pair of shear rings until the top of the two stones become flush with the top of the direct shear rings. After final trimming of the sample. centering it within the shear rings. Place two porous stones on top of the soil sample to be extruded. however. When dry sand samples are to be tested. Once extruded. filter paper and porous stone are placed on each side of the soil sample. This machine can also be used to establish the undrained shear strength of saturated highly plastic cohesive soils under certain conditions. the soil description. Undisturbed samples will be selected for strength testing in the usual manner. in a similar manner as for consolidation test samples. The water content is determined from the remainder of the field sample. excluding the most pervious medium and fine sands. An additional 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch of soil is further extruded and the direct shear sample is separated from the field sample.

Next. The shear rings with soil specimen and stones are then carefully placed inside the direct shear box. Specimen Setup in Machine The following steps are now presented in order in which a specimen would be prepared in the direct shear machine for testing.University of Washington Department of Civil Engineering Soil Mechanics Laboratory sample is to be inundated. The top transverse bar is now placed over the sample such that the bar will just rest upon the loading ball with base centered over the specimen. it is first necessary to saturate the porous stone by boiling them for at least five minutes and letting them cool under deaired water. At this time the hardened direct shear rings would be held together by three bolts and the soil specimen would be centered inside the rings. Special care should be taken to see that the roller bearings underneath the direct shear plate are properly cleaned and contain a slight amount of oil. The bottom tightening screws are then brought up and tightened securely by hand. The vertical dial indicator is positioned and set to read some arbitrary initial reading. The restraining screw is attached finger tight. The outside faces of the soil specimen should be covered with a piece of filter paper cut to the appropriate diameter followed by a porous stone. Consolidation of the Test Specimen 10 . This sets the stage for the next phase. and the entire box pushed forward towards the load ring. the direct shear machine should be checked for cleanliness and proper mechanical condition. consolidation of the specimen with the application of the desired overburden pressure or some other normal pressure. The loading shaft i positioned through the loading collar and the appropriate nut attached with a s small seating load. Equipment Preparation Prior to testing. The top yoke is placed over the rings. the horizontal dial indicator is attached and set at some initial reading. 'The top tightening screws are brought down until they are just finger tight. ft is placed on the soil specimen. The main loading shaft should be returned to its original starting position. At this time a small normal seating load in the order of 100 lbs/sq.

The horizontal dial indicator is adjusted to some 11 . and finally. 50t50 or 12t90 is ordinarily used. a stop watch is started in order to record the appropriate time deformation characteristics of the soil sample undergoing consolidation. If the square root of time graph is used. a stress controlled test may be run in place of a strain controlled test. Adjust the anchoring nut to provide a small seating load on the sample. t50 will be established. With the belofram switch off. the overburden pressure plus at least two times the footing load. the insitu effective overburden pressure at the sample is computed. As a conservative estimate of the failure of a direct shear test. These are usually established at normal pressure of at least the overburden pressure. t90 will be established. in the horizontal direction. The true deflection of the sample undergoing shear is measured by the horizontal dial indicator.) The vertical dial indicator is read and noted on the data sheet. The shear rate is then calculated and will be shown in an example further on in this discussion. The data s will either be plotted on a square root of time graph or on a logarithm of time graph. At the same time the air switch is released.2 of an inch. Consolidation data i taken at the usual time increments. the deflection of the load ring is ignored. it is not necessary to go through this procedure. the overburden pressure plus the footing load. For clean sands and soils with high permeability. For all other types of soils it is necessary to establish the time deformation characteristics and estimate t50 or t90. Under these circumstances. 25 revolution of the loading handle per minute is the maximum rate of shear to use for these conditions. (This is proceeded by the calibration of this particular test gauge.University of Washington Department of Civil Engineering Soil Mechanics Laboratory From the boring logs and the initial moisture-density determinations. The purpose of recording the time deformation characteristics of the soil sample is to establish the rate of shear testing of the soil. the air pressure regulator is adjusted to the desired normal load. while if a logarithm base. Once we have established the rate of testing we are now ready to perform the test. During the direct shear test. To establish the appropriate Mohr failure envelope it is desirable to have at least three points on the failure envelope. An estimate of the failure displacement is taken to be 0. In the event the testing time is very long. Test Procedure The final dial reading after consolidation is noted on the data sheet.

The test is now started by the counter clockwise rotation of the loading device at the prescribed rate of shear either manually or by motor. Usually the test is carried out past failure to determine the residual strength which may be used in design.University of Washington Department of Civil Engineering Soil Mechanics Laboratory convenient zero point. the effective stress parameters c' and φ' are established. For coarser sands. Computations and Report The shear stress on the sample is easily computed by dividing the shear force as measured by the load ring or load cell by the area of the sample. The machine is cleaned and the bearings are checked for dirt and are oiled and cleaned if necessary. Initial readings are taken at this time. Discussion: 12 . From the Mohr envelope. uncorrected for deflection. The separating screws are now turned to force the shear rings apart at a prescribed distance depending on the soil type. 1 revolution is used. 3/4 of a revolution of the set screw is used. the two hardened shear rings have been held together by three screws. these three connector screws are now removed. 1/3 revolution is used. Unless automatically recorded. Until this time. put into reverse. At this point the test is completed and the machine is dismantled. vertical deflection versus shear (horizontal) displacement. The normal pressure is now reduced. The sample is extracted and weighed in order to determine the dry density and water content at failure. Specimen Removal and Cleanup The shear loading is stopped. and reduced until no shear stress is on the sample. the load dial and vertical deflection dial indicator will be read at various prescribed horizontal deflection readings such as every ten divisions of the three place dial until failure. For fine grain soils and clays. These values are not absolute and can be altered accordingly. For sands of a fine to medium size. graphs of shear stress versus horizontal deflection. and a Mohr envelope are plotted. To evaluate for the shear test. The apparatus is taken down in reverse order as assembled.

it is possible to run multiphase direct shear tests on one sample. In the case of clean sands. As in the triaxial testing. and hence.University of Washington Department of Civil Engineering Soil Mechanics Laboratory For running direct shear tests on clean sands. Although the top and bottom face of the soil sample are in contact with filter paper and porous stones providing drainage access. The test must be run rapidly within 5 to 10 minutes to avoid consolidation under normal force during testing. in the case of highly plastic clays. with qualification. it is absolutely necessary to submerge the sample during the test so as to simulate the field conditions. The process would be repeated for the third stage and the resulting Mohr envelope would be made from three points of shear stress at three different normal pressures. it is desirable to maintain the levels of induced pore pressure within the sample and not to allow it to dissipate. It is necessary to inundate the sample in order to relieve any surface tension that may be present in the sample. however. This would be accomplished by stressing a soil until failure. If this is not desirable. Similarly. the normal force would again be increased to the desired level and the sample would be left to consolidate. the low 13 . the rate of shear is limited to 25 revolutions per minute of the loading shaft. The direct shear test can be used to measure the effective stress parameters of any type of soil as long as the pore pressure induced by the normal force and the shear force can dissipate with time. an increase in shear strength. a stress controlled test may be run in order to establish the effective stress parameters. another direct shear test similar to the first would be run on the sample. After failure was reached in the second phase. giving an increase in strength. at which time the normal pressure would be immediately increased and the soil would be allowed to consolidate. this is no problem as the pore pressure dissipates readily. If an undisturbed sample has been obtained under the ground water table. it is merely necessary to have a suitable strain rate so that the pore pressure can dissipate with time. as in the case of a more impervious soil. the shear rate can be reduced to the appropriate level for a strain controlled test. The direct shear test can also be used to determine the undrained shear strength of saturated plastic clays. When soils of lesser permeability are tested (and therefore require a longer time for pore pressure dissipation).

soil type. As a reasonable approximation. 14 . Therefore. In cases where the soil sample is saturated insitu regardless of grain size. These tensile forces would tend to consolidate the sample three dimensionally. as a reasonable approximation. the test measures the undrained shear strength of the soil. it is assumed that the pore pressure across the shear plane is very close to the original pore pressure induced by the normal load.University of Washington Department of Civil Engineering Soil Mechanics Laboratory permeability of the plastic clay reduces the rate of pore pressure decrease with time. inducing tensile forces within the sample. the sample should be inundated to relieve any surface tension that may develop between the soil particles.

Class. Plate Thickness:______________ Specimen Dimensions: Height:_______ Area:________ Volume:________ Mass:_________ Loading Information: Elapsed Time (sec) Air Pressure:______ Stone+Cap+Ball______ Prov.______ Sample No._________ 15 . & USCS Symbol:_______________________________________________________ Structure:_______________ Consistency:__________________ Specific Gravity:__________ Specimen Density:__________ Normal Load:______________ Shear Box Dimensions: Depth:___________ Diameter:____________ Area:______________ Stone thickness:___________ Frict.:________________ Date:____________ Test No. Ring Calib.University of Washington Department of Civil Engineering Soil Mechanics Laboratory Direct Shear Test Analyst Name:_____________________________ Project Information: Project Name:____________________________ Project Location:________________________ Boring No.:_______________ Sample Description: Source:_____________________________ Condition:_________________________________ Vis.

University of Washington Department of Civil Engineering Soil Mechanics Laboratory 16 .

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