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Standard Proctor Compaction
Unconfined Compression
Compaction of soil is the process by which the soil particles are packed more closely
together by mechanical means, which results in an increase in dry density. This is
achieved through the reduction of air voids in the soil with no significant reduction in the
water content. For geotechnical engineers, soil compaction is one of the most important
parts of earthwork construction. Compaction improves the engineering properties of the
fill soil in many ways, including:

Decreased void ratio and thus lower hydraulic conductivity (permeability) of the
soil. The reduction in hydraulic conductivity may be desirable or undesirable,
depending on the situation.
Increased dry density of the soil, which increases the shear strength and therefore
bearing capacity of the soil.
Decreased compressibility, which reduces the potential for excessive settlement.

Compaction is used widely in geotechnical engineering. For example, in the

construction of embankments, loose soil is placed in layers ranging between 75 - 450 mm
in thickness. Each layer is compacted to a specified standard by mechanical means with
rolling, vibrating, or ramming equipment. In general, higher compaction effort increases
shear strength and reduces compressibility. The soil density to be obtained in the field is
defined by means of two basic laboratory compaction tests: the Standard and Modified
compaction tests. In 1933, Mr. R. R. Proctor introduced a laboratory test to control soil
compaction, which later became known as the Standard Proctor compaction test. The
other compaction test, the modified AASHTO test, was later introduced to simulate the
compaction of heavy equipment, which produces higher compaction energy. In the
standard Proctor test, the volume of the mold is 944 cm3 and the soil is compacted by a
2.49 kg rammer falling freely at a height of 305 mm. The soil is compacted in 3 equal
layers, with each layer receiving 25 blows with the rammer. In the Modified Proctor
(modified AASHTO) test, the mold is the same as in the above test, but the rammer
consists of a 4.5 kg mass falling 450 mm. The soil is compacted in 5 layers, with each
layer receiving 25 blows with the rammer. In this course only the Standard Compaction
test will be performed.

If the water content is increased in increments, the density will also increase since the
particles become lubricated and are able to pack more closely together. Eventually, a
peak or maximum density is achieved for some particular moisture content and
compactive effort (the energy supplied by the compaction equipment). The density

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thereafter will decrease as the moisture content is increased. Plotting the values for
moister content [%] vs. dry density d will result in a curve similar to that given in
Figure 1; 100% saturation is never reached because air remains trapped in the specimen
(see below and Fig. 2). The curve in Figure 1 shows that for a specific compaction
method, the maximum dry density (dmax) is obtained at the optimum water content (wopt).
The work done or compaction energy E by a rammer per unit volume of soil is

E =W r N N
[Equation 1.0]

where Wr is the rammer weight, H the rammer drop, V the volume of compacted soil, NB
the number of blows per layer and NL the number of layers. As shown in Table 1, the
work done E in the modified compaction test is about 4.5 times as much as that in the
standard test.

Table 1 Compactive effort for Standard and Modified Proctor compaction tests

Compaction Test
Standard Proctor Modified Proctor
Weight of Hammer (N) 24.5 44.5
Height of Drop (m) 0.305 0.457
Number of Blows/layer 25 25
Number of Layers 3 5
Compaction Energy 593.7 kJ/m3 2710.5 kJ/m3

The degree of compaction of a soil is measured in terms of dry density, which is

given by the following:

d = [Equation 2.0]
1+ w
d = dry density [Mg/m3]
= bulk density [Mg/m3]
w = water content [%]

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Dry Density, (Mg/m )




0 5 w opt 10 15
Water content, w (%)

Figure 1 Relationship between dry density and water content

If all the air in a soil could be expelled by compaction the soil would be in a state of
full saturation and the dry density would be the maximum possible value for the given
water content. This degree of saturation, however, is unattainable in practice. This state
of complete saturation is referred to as the zero air voids dry density or the saturation dry
density. The zero air voids dry density can be calculated from the following expression:
d = w [Equation 3.0]
1 + w Gs
d = dry density (Mg/m3)
w = density of water (Mg/m3)
Gs = specific gravity
w = water content

Dry density and water content can also be related in terms of air content (A) from the
following expression:

G s (1 A )
d = w [Equation 4.0]
1+ w Gs

The relationship between zero voids dry density and water content is shown in
Figure 2. The curve is referred to as the zero air voids line or the saturation line.
Typical dry density-water content curves obtained from the Standard and Modified
Proctor tests are also shown. Note that the curve resulting from the Modified Proctor test
is situated above and to the left of the curve obtained from the Standard Proctor test.
Hence, higher compactive effort results in a higher value of maximum dry density and a
lower value of optimum water content. However, the values of air content at maximum

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dry density are approximately equal (Craig, 1992). The curves relating dry density at air
contents of 5% and 10% with water contents are also shown in
Figure 2.

Figure 2 Dry density-water content relationships for soils (Craig, 1992)

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EQUIPMENT AND SUPPLIES: (Refer to Figures 3 & 4)

Standard Proctor Compaction mold with (detachable) base plate and collar (refer to
Figure 3)
Standard Proctor Compaction hammer (refer to Figure 4)
Soil sample
Moisture tins
Steel straightedge (or trimming tools)
Large mixing pan and large spoon for dispensing soil
Soil mixing tools (trowel, spoon, and spatula)
500 ml beaker or graduated cylinder
Drying oven
Distilled water, and

Figure 3 Equipment for compaction tests (shown are: (a) compaction mold with
extension collar and base plate, (b) 500-mL beaker, (c) spoon, (d) large mixing pan

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Figure 4 Soil compaction hammers (shown are: (a) Standard
Proctor and (b) Modified Proctor)

Each group of two (2) students will conduct a Standard Proctor tests at four (4) different
water contents.

1. Prepare apparatus. Make sure that the mold, extension collar and base plate are
clean and dry. Weigh the mold and base plate to the nearest 1 g and record on the
data sheet given on p. 11. Measure the mold dimensions and compute its volume.
2. Obtain soil sample. Use approximately 2.5 kg sample of air-dry soil.
3. Prepare test sample. Add water to the soil and mix thoroughly to achieve a
homogeneous mixture. For the Standard Proctor test, add a suitable amount of
water to achieve an initial water content value of about 10% (or about 4 to 5%
below the optimum moisture content). These quantities may be taken as a general
guide, but a suitable amount is best judged by experience.
4. Compact soil into mold. Place the mold assembly (mold + collar) on a solid base,
such as a concrete floor. Add a "suitable" amount of soil to the mold (for the first
layer or lift add loose soil to the mold so that it is half full). Compact the soil by
applying the required compactive effort as detailed in Table 1. Care must be
taken to ensure that the rammer is properly in place before releasing. The first
few blows of the rammer should be applied in a systematic manner to ensure the
most efficient compaction and maximum reproducibility of results (Head, 1980).
The sequence shown in Figure 5 (a) should be followed for the first four blows.

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Then the hammer should be moved progressively around the edge of the mold
between successive blows, as shown in Figure 5 (b), so that the blows are
uniformly distributed over the entire area. For the second layer place
approximately equal layer of soil in the mold and compact as before. The last
layer should be compacted such that the compacted surface is about 6 mm above
the top level of the mold.

Figure 5 Sequence of blows using hammer (after Head, 1980)

5. Trim off sample. Carefully remove the extension collar. Cut away the excess soil
and trim off to the top of the mold using the straight edge. Any small cavity
resulting from the removal of stones should be filled with fine materials.
6. Weigh sample. Weigh the soil, mold and base plate to the nearest 1 g. Record all
measurements on the data sheet provided on p. 11.
7. Remove soil. Open the mold. Remove compacted soil. Observe macro-structure
of the soil.
8. Strength testing. For one (1) of your water contents as instructed by the
laboratory technician or TA measure the undrained shear strength following the
procedure outlined under Test B. UNCONFINED COMPRESSION TEST.
9. Water content determination. Place a representative samples in a moisture tin for
the measurement of the water content. The wet mass of the soil must be obtained
immediately before the soil begins to dry out. Record your measurements on the
data sheet given on p. 11. You will need to return to the lab after allowing
your specimen to bake in the oven overnight.
10. Break up soil and remix. Break up the soil so that it will pass the No. 4 sieve.
Add an increment of water to increase the water content by about 2% and repeat
Steps 4 - 8. Continue the procedure until the wet unit weight shows a marked
decrease, each time increasing the water content. The mass of water Mw to be
added to achieve the water content w in percent may be estimated as follows:

Ms ( w w0)
Mw = [Equation 5.0]

where w0 is the previous moisture content (%) and Ms the mass of (dry) soil.

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Standard Reference: ASTM D 2166 - Standard Test Method for Unconfined Compressive
Strength of Cohesive Soil

The unconfined compression test is a simple way to measure the strength of soils. When
fined grained soils are loaded rapidly without lateral confinement, they deform practically
at constant volume under undrained conditions. The unconfined compression strength is
determined by applying an axial stress to a cylindrical soil specimen with no confining
pressure and observing the axial strains corresponding to various stress levels (Figure 3).
The undrained shear strength Su is equal to one-half of the major principal stress 1f at
Su= 1f / 2 [3]

A cylindrical vertical specimen with a height-to-diameter ratio of about 2 and

typically 38 mm or more in diameter is set up between end plates. A vertical load is
applied incrementally at such a rate as to produce a vertical strain of about 1 to 2% per
minute. This rate is so rapid relative to the drainage of the sample that there is no time for
significant volume change in spite of the absence of a membrane to seal the sample. The
unconfined compressive strength is considered to be equal to the load at which failure
occurs, or at which the axial strain reaches 20% if there is no sudden failure, divided by
the cross-sectional area of the sample at the time of failure.

Figure 7. Unconfined compression test (Budhu, 2007).

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Measure the undrained shear strength of silty-clay soil when compacted with Standard
Proctor energy at different water contents.


Unconfined compression testing machine
Load cell to measure axial force P (see Fig. 7)
Linear potentiometer to measure axial displacement
Device to measure length and diameter (callipers or similar) of test sample
Sampling tube with extractor with cutting edges to prepare cylindrical specimens

1. A laboratory technician or TA will assist you, and show you how to use the soil
extruder for UCS testing.
2. Measure the initial height (Ho) and diameter (Do) of the specimen and determine
the mass of the specimen. The ratio Ho/Do is normally 2. Compute the initial
cross-sectional area of the specimen, Ao = Do2 / 4.
3. Test the specimen immediately to prevent loss of moisture. Test procedure is as
Place the specimen on the loading device. Lower the upper platen or raise the
lower platen so that the upper platen barely touches the specimen.
Attach the linear potentiometer to the loading device to measure the axial
displacement of the sample z.
The rate of advance of loading head (axial displacement) will already be set
for you. The load cell readings of axial force P and linear potentiometer
readings of axial displacement z will be recorded by the data acquisition
Loading generally lasts about 10-15 minutes. Observe the shape of the
specimen and record by-hand periodic values of P and z.
Continue loading, until one of the following occurs:
a. Load decreases on sample significantly
b. Load holds constant for four consecutive readings
c. Deformation is significantly past 15% strain, say 20 to 25%.
4. Obtain measurements of axial force P and axial displacement z from the data
acquisition system.


Compute axial stress 1 and axial strain 1 via:

P z Ao
1 = and 1 = where: A =
A Lo 1 1

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RESULTS: [5 marks] Within 48 hours of attending the lab session, send a memo via
email to the TA with the following information given in the following format:
Names of group members:
Compaction results - Water content (%), Dry density (kg/m3):
W1, DD1
W2, DD2
W3, DD3
W4, DD4
Unconfined compression results Peak axial stress (kPa), Axial strain at peak (%), Final
water content (%):
Peak Stress 1, Peak Strain 1, WF1

You will also require data from all lab groups this will be posted to the course web site.

Within one (1) week of completing the laboratory, hand-in an individually prepared
report that contains your answers to the following questions:
1. [5 marks] Describe the soil and provide the USCS classification (see Budhu p.56). The
liquid and plastic limits are wL = 32% and wP = 18%, respectively.
2. [20 marks] Plot the compaction curve (water content w versus dry density d) for the
soil tested in the laboratory and plot the zero-air voids line. Distinguish between your
data points and the rest of the class with different symbols.
2. [5 marks] Find and report the maximum dry density and optimum water content.
3. For the Unconfined Compression test conducted by your group:
[10 marks] Prepare plots of axial force (kN) vs. axial displacement (mm) and axial stress
(kPa) vs. axial strain (%).
[5 marks] Clearly identify the peak stress and strain.
[5 marks] Identify the undrained shear strength Su of your specimen.
4. For the Unconfined Compression results from all lab groups (from course web site):
[5 marks] Plot of undrained shear strength vs. water content.
[5 marks] Plot peak strain vs. water content.
[5 marks] Comment on the effect of water content on the undrained shear strength.
5. [10 marks] What water content limits would you recommend for field compaction if it
were specified that the relative compaction in the field be at least 95% of Standard
Proctor Maximum Dry Density?
6. [10 marks] What are the void ratio and degree of saturation at Standard Proctor
Maximum Dry Density (Gs=2.7).
7. [10 marks] Question 3.21 from Budhu.
All submitted work must be in accordance with the Policies on Submitted Work and
Academic Integrity posted on the CIVL 340 Moodle page.

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