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HERIOT-WATT UNIVERSITY

SCHOOL OF LIFE SCIENCE


DETERMINATION OF LIQUID AND PLASTIC LIMITS
Liquid Limit Con Pnt!"tion mt#od
This is the preferred method of determining the liquid limit of soils. It is based on the measurement of
penetration into the soil of a standardised cone of specific mass (80g). At the liquid limit the cone
penetration is 20mm.
A$$"!"tu%
(1) Penetrometer apparatus
(2) one for the penetrometer! made of stainless steel "ith a smooth polished surface. A length of
appro#imatel$ %&mm and a sharp point. The cone angle is %0
o
and a combined mass (cone and
sliding shaft) of 80g.
(%) 'lat glass plate! about &00m square and 10mm thic(.
()) *etal cups! of brass or aluminium allo$! &&mm diameter and )0mm deep. The rim must me
parallel to the base! "hich must be flat.
(&) +ash bottle containing distilled or de,ionised "ater.
(-) Palette (nifes or spatulas.
(.) /lass bea(ers (&0cc) (moisture determination).
P!o&du!
(1) A sample of 0200g! air dried soil passing the )2&m 12 sie3e is required.
(2) Place the soil on the glass plate and mi# thoroughl$ "ith a little distilled or de,ionised "ater! using
the palette (nifes or spatulas. If the plastic limit test is also to be done! set aside a small portion in
a sealed container or bag before adding too much "ater! and "hile the soil is still firm. To the
remainder of the soil add more "ater! a little at a time! and "or( it into a thic( homogenous paste.
(%) Place the paste into an airtight container! and seal. Allo" the sample to cure for a period of 02)
hours! or o3ernight in a refrigerator! to allo" the "ater to permeate through the soil mass. 'or soils
of a lo" cla$ content! such as 3er$ silt$ soils! the curing period can be omitted and the test carried
out immediatel$ after thorough mi#ing.
()) hec( that the apparatus is calibrated and the cone is falling freel$ through the housing "hen the
release button is pressed.
(&) 4emi# the soil from the container after maturing. 4emi# the sample thoroughl$ for at least 10
minutes. 2ome soils! especiall$ hea3$ cla$s! ma$ need a longer mi#ing period. It is important at
this stage to obtain a uniform distribution of "ater throughout the sample.
(-) 5eep the soil together in the middle of the glass plate to minimise an$ moisture loss. 5eep the soil
co3ered "ith a damp cloth or pol$thene "hen not mi#ing.
(.) Press the soil paste into the cup "or(ing from the side into the middle. A3oid trapping air at this
stage. 'inall$ smooth off le3el "ith the rim.
(8) Place the cup full of soil paste into the centre of the penetrometer platform and lo"er the cone and
its support carefull$ "ithout e#erting an$ force onto the stem! so that the tip of the cone is 6ust
touching the surface of the soil. Ad6ust the dial gauge b$ carefull$ lo"ering the mechanical foot
onto the top of the cone platform. 4e,7ero the dial.
(8) 1$ depressing the release button! the cone is allo"ed to fall. ontinue holding the release button
for at least & seconds. The apparatus must remain stead$ during this process. After & seconds!
release the button so as to loc( the cone in place. /entl$ turn the inner (nob cloc("ise until the
foot rests on top of the cone platform. 4ecord the reading to the nearest 0.1mm.
(10) 9ift the cone up"ards and a"a$ from the cup. Add a little more soil to the cup! "ithout entrapping
an$ air! smooth off! and repeat stages 8 : 8. If the second cone penetration differs from the first
b$ less than 0.&mm! the a3erage 3alue is recorded and the moisture content is measured. 2tage 11.
If the o3erall range e#ceeds 1.0mm! the soil paste is remo3ed from the cup and remi#ed! and the
test (stages . ; 8) is repeated.
(11) Ta(e a "ater content sample of about 10g from the area penetrated b$ the cone! using the tip of the
spatula. This is placed in a numbered and pre,"eight bea(er! "hich is then "eighed! o3en dried as
in a standard "ater content procedure.
(12) The remaining soil in the cup is remi#ed "ith the surplus on the glass plate together "ith a little
more distilled "ater until a uniform softer consistenc$ is obtained. The cup is "iped clean and
dried! and stages (. ; 11) are repeated at least a further three more times (ma(ing four in all)! "ith
further increments of distilled "ater.
A range of penetration 3alues from about 1&mm to 2&mm should be co3ered.
(1%) The "ater content from each penetration reading is calculated from the "et and dr$ "eights as in
the "ater content test. <ach penetration (mm) is plotted as ordinate! against the corresponding
moisture content (=) as abscissa! both to linear scales! on a graph. The best straight line fitting
these points is dra"n.
(1)) 'rom the graph the "ater content corresponding to a cone penetration of 20mm is read off. The
result is quoted to the nearest "hole number as the liquid limit (cone test). The plastic limit and
the plasticit$ inde# are usuall$ reported "ith the liquid limit.
P'"ti& Limit
This test is to determine the lo"est "ater content at "hich the soil is plastic. It can onl$ be carried out on
soils "ith some cohesion! on a fraction passing the )2&m sie3e.
A$$"!"tu%
(1) The most important piece of apparatus for the test is the hand of the operator! "hich should be
clean and free from grease.
(2) /lass plate and small tools used for the liquid limit test.
(%) 2tandard moisture content apparatus.
P!o&du!
(1) Prepare a sample set aside from the bul( sample used in the liquid limit test.
(2) 4oll the sample into a ball on the glass plate and remo3e an$ e#cess moisture. *ould the sample
in the palm of the hand and (nead "ith the fingers so that the "armth of the hand slo"l$ dries it.
+hen slight crac(s begin to appear on the surface ta(e a portion of the ball and using a stead$
pressure roll it gentl$ o3er the glass plate. The thread should reduce in diameter to %mm under the
pressure and crumble. This >crumbling? means that shearing longitudinall$ and trans3ersel$ has
occurred.
(%) As soon as the crumbling stage is reached! gather up the crumbs and place them into a "eighed
"ater content bea(er and "eigh immediatel$.
()) 4epeat stages (2 ; %) a further t"o times.
(&) The "ater content from each sample is calculated from the "et and dr$ "eights as in the "ater
content test. The a3erage "ater content of the three samples is reported and e#pressed to the
nearest "hole number as the plastic limit.
@. 1arras
Aanuar$ 200)
LIQUID ( PLASTIC LIMIT TEST
Lo&"tion) *o!#o') D$t# +m, T!"tmnt)
Liquid 'imit
T%t *"-!
No.
Wt.*"-!
+/,
Wt. *-! 0Soi'+W,
+/,
Wt. *-! 0Soi'+D,
+/,
Wt. W"t!
+/,
Moi%tu!
Contnt +1,
Pnt!"tion
+mm,
2
3
4
5
P'"%ti& Limit
T%t *"-!
No.
Wt.*"-!
+/,
Wt. *-! 0Soi'+W,
+/,
Wt. *-! 0Soi'+D,
+/,
Wt. W"t!
+/,
Moi%tu!
Contnt +1,
Plastic
9imit
2
3
4