TITLE: Atterberg Limit Test.

To determine the liquid limit, plastic limit and the plasticity index of a given soil sample.
When considering fine grained soils, it is found that they are largely dependent on their consistency,
that is, moisture content of it changes its state from dry sample through semi-solid, through plastic
and finally into a liquid form. The boundaries between these states are known as “consistency
limits”. And the Atterberg limits provides the means of describing and measuring the plasticity range
considering in numerical terms. When sufficient water is added and mixed with clay, which can be
made into a slurry and it will behave as a viscous liquid. This is known as the liquid state. When the
moisture is gradually reduced by allowing it to dry out slowly, the clay will start to hold together and
create some resistance to deformation; this is called the “plastic” state. When continuing further
water loss the clay shrinks and the stiffness increases until only a little plasticity is left, and clay will
become brittle; this is semi-solid state. When the drying continues, the clay continues to shrink in
proportion to the amount of water lost, until it reaches the minimum attainable volume by this
process. Beyond this point further drying causes further decrease in volume and this is called the
“solid” state.

 Liquid limit device and grooving tool
 Large glass plate
 Distilled water
 Balance (sensitive to 0.01g)
 Drying oven with temperature ranges from 105 0C to 110 0C
 Cups

For Liquid Limit (LL)
A fine-grained soil can exist in any of numerous states; which state depends on
the amount of water in the soil system. When water is added to a dry soil, each
particle is covered with a film of adsorbed water. If the addition of water is
continued, the thickness of the water film on a particle increases. Increasing the
thickness of the water films permits the particles to slide past one another more
easily. About sixty years ago, A. Atterberg found out the boundaries of four
states in terms of "limits" as follows:

 Liquid Limit (LL): The lowest water content above which soil behaves like
liquid, normally below 100.
 Plastic Limit (PL): The lowest water content at which soil behaves like a
plastic material, normally below 40.
 Plasticity Index (PI): The range between LL and PL.
 Shrinkage Limit (SL): The water content below which soils do not decrease
their volume anymore as they continue dry out.

Figure 1 - Atterberg Limits and Figure 2 - illustration of soil
Indices states

Liquid Limit (LL)

When water is added to dry soil, it changes its state of consistency from hard to
soft. If water was added to a fine grained soil, then water will change its
consistency from hard to semi hard. If continue to add more water, then again
the soil will change its state of consistency from semi hard to plastic and finally
reach a liquid consistency stage. When the soil reaches liquid consistency state,
it has remained no consistent strength to retain its shape under its own weight.
It will start to deform its shape. So the amount of water which is answerable for
this state of consistency of soil is called liquid limit of soil. In other words, we
can define liquid limit as

“It is the minimum water content at which the soil is still in the liquid state, but
has a small shearing strength against flow.”
“Liquid limit is defined as the minimum water content at which a pat of soil cut
by a groove of standard dimension will flow together for a distance of 12 mm
(1/2 inch) under an impact of 25 blows in the device.”

Plastic Limit (PL)
The water content at which the soil begins to crumble when rolled into threads
of specified size which is 3 mm diameter. The Plastic Limit, also known as the
lower plastic limit, is the water content at which a soil changes from the plastic
state to a semisolid state. Plastic Limit the water content, in percent, of a soil at
the boundary between the plastic and semi-solid states.
Shrinkage limit
Shrinkage limit is defined is the moisture content at which the soil change from
a semi solid state to a solid state it can also be defined as the maximum water
content at which the decrease in water content will not cause decrease in total
volume of soil but the rise in moisture content will cause a rise in moisture

Plasticity Index (PI)
The range of water content over which a soil behaves plastically. It is defined as
“the range of reliability with in which the soil exhibit plastic properties or the
numerical difference between the liquid limit and plastic limit”.

In this experiment only the liquid limit, plastic limit, and the plasticity index to
be discussed.

Figure 3 - determination of (a) liquid limit and (b) plastic

PROCEDURE: For Liquid Limit (LL) Test.

 First, mass of each of the empty cans were determined.
 Then, the liquid limit apparatus was calibrated to 10mm falling height
using the space gauge.
 After that, 100 g of moist soil was taken which were passing through sieve
No. 40 and mixed it thoroughly with distilled water to form a uniform paste
 After that, the soil was placed in the Casagrande’s cup and using a
spatula, smoothen the surface so that the maximum depth is about 0.5
 Then, using the grooving tool, a groove was cut at the centreline of the
soil cup, holding the tool perpendicular to the cup at the point of contact.
 Then, the device was Cranked at a rate of 2 revolutions per second until
there is a clear visible closure of ½ inches or 12.7 mm in the soil pat
placed in the cup. The number of blows (N) was counted that caused the
 After that, if N= 10 to 50, the sample of approximately 10 g was collected
from the closed part of the cup using a spatula and determine the water
content weighing the weight of the can + moist soil. If the soil is too dry, N
will be higher and reduces as water is being added.
 After that, the cup was cleaned after each trial, obtain a minimum of five
trials with values of blow number in between 10 to 50.
 Finally, corresponding weight of can + dry soil was Determined after 24
hrs and the blow number vs moisture content, graph was plotted which
was called the “flow curve”.

Figure: (3) (Liquid limit method)

PROCEDURE: For Plastic Limit (PL) Test.

 First mass of each of the empty cans were determined
 Then, the 15 g portion of soil from the prepared sample that was removed
before the Liquid Limit test was used.
 Then, the specimen was rolled using hand on the ground glass plate to
form a thread of uniform 3 mm diameter.
 Once the diameter is reached break the thread into pieces, gathered the
portions of the crumbled thread together and rolled them back into a ball.
Rolled that ball out until it reaches 3 mm in diameter and repeated the
procedure until the thread is crumbling and cannot be rolled back into a
 Some of the crumbling material obtained were taken and the weight of the
can + wet soil was taken.
 Finally, above steps were repeated to obtained three different results to
obtained a averaged value of plastic limit.
Figure: (4) (Plastic limit method)

The Atterberg limits represent the water content where the transformation occurs to fine-grained soil
from a plastic state (plastic limit PL) to a liquid state (liquid limit LL) and from there to a semi-solid
state (shrinkage limit SL) to plastic state. The quantity of water at the Atterburg limits and for the
other physical properties depends on the compositional factors such as the type of minerals, the
amount of each mineral, the shapes and size distribution of the particles and the pore-water
composition, which leads to the conclusion that the exactly defined relationships between the values
of the Atterberg limits and the soil’s other properties must exist. Fine-grained soils contain both clay
and associated minerals, and the interactions between the clay minerals and water affect the soil’s
water holding capacity. Water is strongly adsorbed onto the external surfaces hydrophilic non-
swelling clay minerals, whereas water adsorbs onto both the external and internal surfaces of
swelling clay minerals. Besides the adsorbed water soils also contain free inter-particle and inter-
aggregate pore water. Some points to know:
 Most of the water in soils is associated with clay minerals
 The pore sizes that effectively control fluid flow at the liquid limit are the same size for all
soils and hence the quantity of free pore water at the liquid limit is a constant
 Soils have similar pore water suction at the liquid limit. This means that the ratio of adsorbed
water to clay surface area should be about the same at the liquid limit
 At the liquid limit,, different fine grained soils have approximately equal under-rained shear
 At the plastic limit the under-rained shear strength is about 100 times the under-rained shear
strength at the liquid limit
 The quantity of interlayer water in swelling clays is mostly dependent on the type of clay
minerals, the exchangeable cautions and the chemical composition of the pore water.

5. at the plastic limit the undrained shear strength is
about 100 times the undrained shear strength at the
liquid limit [10 and numerous subsequent authors];
6. the quantity of interlayer water in swelling clays is
mostly dependent on the type of the clay minerals,
the exchangeable cations and the chemical composition
of the pore water [11, 12].
On the basis of the above findings, Dolinar and Trauner
[13, 14] assumed that the quantity of free pore water and
external surface water at the liquid limit we|LL and the
plastic limit we|PL can be expressed in terms of the external
specific surface area and the clay minerals content by
Eqs. (1) and (2)
 Humboldtmfg (2015) Liquid Limit, [Online], Available:
http://www.humboldtmfg.com/liquid_limit_atterberg_limits.html [11 July 2015].
 Aboutcivil (2015) Atterburg, [Online], Available:
http://www.aboutcivil.org/Atterbugtest.html [11 July 2015].