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3
Basic Laboratory Tests

During a geotechnical investigation or the grading of a construction site, many


lab tests are performed to help determine the site soil conditions. Although there
are many different types of lab tests, some are used more often than others. The
tests presented in this chapter are some of the more commonly used.

The procedures described to perform each test are generally consistent with
American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards. However, it is
recommended that current ASTM procedures be referred to during all testing,
as these standards are recognized throughout the industry and updated on a
regular basis. Along with each test described herein, a reference to the ASTM
test method is given in parentheses.

Modified Proctor (ASTM D1557)


The modified Proctor test determines the moisture content at which a given
soil type will compact the best (i.e., achieve maximum density). This moisture
density relationship is determined by compacting a given volume of soil at a
known moisture content into a standard-sized cylindrical mold. The maximum
density testASTM D1557as described in this chapter, is referred to as the
modified Proctor.

The original Proctor test was proposed by R.R. Proctor in 1933. ASTM test
method D698 (often referred to as the standard Proctor) was very similar
to the method proposed by R. R. Proctor, with the exception that both ASTM
test methods (D1557 and D698) use a free-fall drop of the hammer, in lieu of
firm strokes (which may give variable results). The modified Proctor test was
introduced as an ASTM Standard in 1958. During the 1970s and early 1980s the
modified Proctor became more widely used as a modern replacement for the
standard Proctor.

The primary differences between the modified Proctor and the standard Proctor
are the hammer weights, the height of the drop, and the number of layers placed
into the molds. The standard Proctor utilizes a 5.5-lb hammer with a 12-in. drop
and three layers; the modified Proctor uses a 10-lb hammer, an 18-in. drop, and
five layers. The standard Proctor creates an effort of approximately 12,400
ft-lbf/ft3, whereas the modified Proctor creates a force of about 56,000 ft-lbf/ft3
(ASTM Volume 4.08). As compaction equipment became larger and heavier

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26 Chapter 3: Basic Laboratory Tests

over the years (with larger vibratory compactors, heavier sheepsfoot rollers,
etc., and with far heavier loads being transported over roads and highways) it
became necessary to have a higher, more relevant compaction standard.

During the transition from the use of the standard Proctor to the modified Proc-
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tor there have been many misconceptions about the different need for each Proc-
tor type. One common misunderstanding is that a 100% compaction obtained
by the D698 standard Proctor is equivalent to a 95% compaction achieved by
the D1557 method. Since the difference in load applied during each test is so
great (12,400 versus 56,000 ft-lbf/ft3), a 95% compaction determined by using a
modified Proctor is equivalent to more than a 103% compaction as obtained by
a standard Proctor.

Another idea sometimes misstated is that one Proctor works better in some soils
then the other method. The modified Proctor test is prepared in the lab in the
same way as the standard Proctor (methods A, B, and C) for all soil types; how-
ever, geotechnical engineers routinely adjust the moisture and density required
(compaction) in the field when utilizing the modified Proctor dependent on the
soil type or fill loading requirements (i.e., 95% for aggregate base, 87% to 92%
at 2% to 4% over optimum for expansive clay, 90% for general engineered fill, or
maybe even 100% compaction for an airport runway base course).

Synopsis
The test method described in this section is for a sample with no more than
20% of material retained on the #4 sieve, similar to ASTM D1557 (test method
A). The compaction of the sample is performed by dropping a 10-lb hammer a
given number of times, then weighing the amount of soil compressed into the
mold. (For method A, 25 drops are used; for a description of test methods B
and C refer to ASTM D1557.) This compaction procedure is repeated at various
moisture contents (usually four)from dry to wet.

Each moisture content can be plotted against the corresponding dry density of
the soil on graph paper (see Fig. 3-1), creating a compaction curve. The point
at the top of the curve is where the optimum moisture and maximum den-
sity meet. The moisture content at the maximum density is the water content
at which the soil will generally compact best during the field grading process.
When a field density test is taken, it is calculated against the laboratory maxi-
mum density test, thus determining the percent compaction.

Apparatus
The equipment needed to perform the modified Proctor test consists of the
following:

Mold: 4 in. in diameter by 4.58 in. in height (for a volume of 130 of a cubic
foot).

Hammer: 10-lb with an 18-in. drop and with a 2-in. circular face; may be
manually or mechanically operated.

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Chapter 3: Basic Laboratory Tests 27

Maximum density test sheet. Figure 3-1

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28 Chapter 3: Basic Laboratory Tests

Scales: a larger scale with a 20-kg minimum capacity (approximately 1 g


accuracy) and a smaller 1-kg scale (approximately 0.1 g accuracy).

Sample extruder: a hydraulic car jack or other adapted equipment to help


remove the soil from the sample mold.
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Steel straight edge: approximately 12 in. long by 2 in. wide and having one
beveled edge.

Sieve: #4 (4.75 mm).

Oven: thermostatically controlled to maintain a temperature of approxi-


mately 230F (110C).

Additional equipment includes a graduated cylinder (in milliliters), mixing tools,


mixing pans, and moisture sample containers. (Containers should be numbered,
preweighed, and labeled with indelible ink.)

Procedure
Obtain a large (50-lb minimum) bulk sample from the field. Prior to testing, the
sample must be visually classified (using the USCS), and the sample descrip-
tion (including where the sample was obtained) must be written on the lab test
sheet.

To start the test, pass the material through the #4 sieve, and set aside any plus
#4 material, as it may be used for a specific gravity or other tests if required.
(For this test it will be assumed that less than 5% of the material is retained on
the #4 screen, so no rock correction will be calculated.) After the sample is
passed through the sieve, its initial moisture content should be brought to a few
percent under optimum by either adding moisture or by drying the soil. A good
starting moisture is that at which when you squeeze the soil in your palm, it will
just barely cling together.

For example, a predominantly sandy sample should barely clump together when
squeezed in your hand, not leaving visible moisture in your palm when released,
but a silty or clayey soil may cling together more readily when squeezedbut
should not have enough moisture to be pressed into a pancake shape. Blend and
mix the moisture thoroughly into the sample to bring it to the starting point.

Tip: Excess moisture can be reduced by spreading the sample on a con-


crete floor, by using a fan, or by drying the material in a low-temperature
oven (<125F).

Next, divide the soil into four equal samples, each weighing about 2,500 g
(approximately 5.5-lb each). Label the samples 1 through 4. Sample #1 is already
at the proper moisture content to begin the test and should now be sealed in an
airtight container and labeled (%). Each successive sample (or point) should
have between 1.5% and 2% more moisture added to it than the preceding sample
[2% of 2,500 = approximately 50 g (or ml) of water]. Thoroughly mix the required

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Chapter 3: Basic Laboratory Tests 29

water into each sample. Seal each sample in an airtight container and label it
accordingly (+ 2%, + 4%, etc.). Leave the samples sealed to cureso that the
moisture is distributed evenly throughout2 to 4 hours for nonplastic soils,
and up to 16 hours for very clayey material. This cure time is essential for mois-
ture consistency. Incomplete curing is often the cause of inaccurate points on
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the curve.

After curing, the samples are ready for compacting. Place the compaction mold
on a level concrete surface. Put one layer (lift) of soil (15 of the sample, about
500 g) from sample container #1 into the mold. Compact this first layer of soil
with 25 blows from the compaction hammer, distributing the blows evenly over
the sample surface. The hammer should be raised the full 18 in., then allowed to
dropin free fallto strike the soil.

Tip: The inside of the mold may be sprayed with a light layer of lubri-
cant (such as WD-40TM) to help ease the removal of the specimen from
the mold.

In a similar manner, compact the remaining four equal lifts of soil from sample
container #1, with the fifth and final compacted layer filling slightly higher than
the horizontal splitwhere the top of the mold separates (see Fig. 3-2).

Tip: After compacting each lift, some soil may adhere to the face of the
compaction hammer; carefully lay the hammer down and scrape off the
excess material prior to compacting the next lift. If the excess soil is
allowed to remain on the hammer face, the drop may be softened, thus
skewing the results.

Separate and remove the top and bottom portions from the mold. Using a straight
edge trim off all excess material so that the soil is level with the top of the mold.
Any small holes or voids should be filled with the trimmed material and then
patted flush into place. Weigh the mold and the soil, and then record the weight
as shown in Fig. 3-1. Next, extrude the soil from the mold. Take a representative
portion (approximately 500 g) of material axially from the central portion of the
sample. Place this material in a numbered container and weigh it on the smaller
scale, and then enter the weight and container number on the test sheet. Place
the container in the oven to dry. When dried, this sample will be weighed for the
moisture calculation.

Repeat the same procedures for samples #2 through #4, being sure to obtain
a moisture sample for each point pounded. An attempt should be made to
compact two points on the dry side of the optimum moisture content and two
points on the wet side. Four points separated in this manner will help to create
a well-formed compaction curve. After the moisture samples are dried, weigh
them; record each weight on the test sheet.

Tip: During the compaction of predominantly sandy, gravelly, and non-


plastic silty soils into the mold, water will begin to seep from the bottom
of the mold at the point when the soil is barely over-optimum, whereas

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30 Chapter 3: Basic Laboratory Tests

Figure 3-2 Modified Proctor hammer and mold.


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Chapter 3: Basic Laboratory Tests 31

clays and low plastic silts will begin to appear mushy or spongy in the
mold as they go over-optimum.

Calculations
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The calculations needed for the modified Proctor are as follows (see Fig. 3-1):

1. First calculate the percent moisture:

percent moisture = (W/D) 100,

where

W, weight of water = (wet weight of soil and container)


(dry weight of soil and container)

and

D, weight of dry soil = (dry weight of soil and container)


(weight of container).

2. Determine the wet density:

wet density = [(weight of soil in grams)/(453.6)] (30),

where

weight of soil = (weight of compacted soil and mold)


(weight of mold).

3. Determine the dry density:

dry density = (wet density)/(100 + percent moisture) 100.

4. Plot each point (dry density versus moisture) on the test sheet graph, then
draw a curve through them. The maximum density and optimum moisture con-
tents meet at the top of the curve.

Sieve Analysis (ASTM D422)


The sieve analysis is used to determine the grain-size distribution of material
with particle diameters larger than the #200 sieve. When a hydrometer analysis
is performed on the same sample, a full grain-size distribution curve may be
drawn, indicating the minus #200 material as well.

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32 Chapter 3: Basic Laboratory Tests

Apparatus
For the sieve analysis the following equipment is needed:

Set of sieves: as pictured in Fig. 3-3 or any other desired combination.


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Scales: accurate to 0.1 g for >#10 material and 0.01 g for weighing <#10
material.

Sieve shaker: preferably with a timer.

Oven: set at 230F (110C).

#200 wash sieve: a sieve with high sides (75 m).

Sink: with a small hose to rinse soil through the wash sieve.

Soaking solution: sodium hexametaphosphate solution (40 g per L of dis-


tilled water).

Soaking container: metal pan, porcelain bowl, or a similar container that has
been numbered, preweighed, and labeled with indelible ink.

Procedure
Place a representative portion of the soil sample in the oven until it is thoroughly
dried. For material 38 in. and smaller a minimum sample of 500 g will suffice.
(Refer to ASTM D1140 for additional minimum weight requirements.) Weigh
the initial sample. Enter this weight as the total sample weight. Pour the sample
into the soaking pan. Fill the pan with enough soaking solution to completely
cover the sample. Low cohesive soils should be allowed to soak a minimum of
2 hours (and moderate to highly plastic soils should soak overnight) to soften
and break down the adhesion of clay and silt particles.

After the soaking is complete, wash the sample over a #200 wash sieve. Con-
tinue to wash the sample until no more fines (silt or clay) appear to be passing
through the sieve. Then, carefully position the sieve over the soaking pan and
rinse the remaining soil back into it. Pour off the excess water, taking care not
to pour out any of the remaining soil. Place the sample into the oven to dry.

Arrange a set of sieves in order of opening sizefrom large to small, top to


bottom (Fig. 3-3). Remove the dry soil from the oven and pour the soil into
the top sieve, using a brush as necessary to dislodge all adhering soil from the
sample pan. Cover the stacked sieves and tighten them onto the shaker. Let the
sieves shake for at least 15 minutes, or until all the grains of soil have passed
through all the sieves possible.

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Chapter 3: Basic Laboratory Tests 33

Sieve arrangement. Figure 3-3

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The sieves are shown in stacked position. Soil is poured into the top sieve, and a lid is placed on
top. Then, the sieves are shaken for about 15 minutes.

Sieve analysis test sheet. Figure 3-4

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34 Chapter 3: Basic Laboratory Tests

After shaking, weigh the soil from each sieve, starting with the largest screen,
adding each weight together (weighing in a cumulative manner). Record each
weight on the test sheet, as shown in Fig. 3-4.

Tip: To help remove material from the larger screens, use a small stiff
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wire brush. A softer brush should be used on the smaller size (nylon)
sieves.

Calculations
To complete the sieve analysis, perform the following calculations (see Fig. 3-4):

1. First determine the cumulative weight of soil retained:

cumulative weight of soil retained = (weight of soil retained from each


individual sieve) + (cumulative weight retained on all larger sieves).

2. The weight of soil passing through the sieve is then calculated by:

weight of soil passing = (total weight of soil) (cumulative weight).

3. The percentages are found by:

percent finer than = [(weight of soil passing)/(total weight of soil)] (100).

Hydrometer Analysis (ASTM D422)


The hydrometer analysis uses a sedimentation process to determine the parti-
cle-size distribution of material finer than the #200 sieve. A grain-size distribu-
tion curve may be drawn from the resulting figures and may be combined with
the grain-size curve obtained from the plus #200 material.

Apparatus
Hydrometer analysis requires the following equipment:

1,000-ml sedimentation cylinders: approximately 18 in. tall by 2.5 in. in


diameter.

Hydrometer: 52H.

Sieves: #10 (2 mm) and #200 wash sieve (75 m).

Bowl with pestle: hard rubber-tipped pestle preferred.

Scales: accurate to 0.1 g (for material retained on the #10 sieve) and 0.01 g
(for material passing the #10 sieve).

Squirt bottle: used to rinse material from the inside of cups and cylinders.

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Chapter 3: Basic Laboratory Tests 35

Thermometer: accurate to 1C.

Dispersing solution: sodium hexametaphosphate solution (40 g per L of dis-


tilled water).
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Dispersing containers: small porcelain bowls or similar containers.

Weighing containers: tared and numbered with indelible ink.

Mixing apparatus: for example, a milkshake mixer with a mixing cup.

Timing device: watch, clock, timer, etc.

Note that all water used should be distilled and the room in which the analysis
is done should have a fairly constant temperature.

Procedure
Air dry a representative sample. Break up the sample with a pestle in a bowl.
Next, pass the sample through the #10 sieve, allowing for enough sample to be
weighed out as follows: If the sample is predominantly clayey or silty, use 50 g
of soil; if the sample is primarily sandy, use 100 g of material.

Place the sample in a dispersing bowl, add 125 ml of dispersing solution, and
stir well. Let the mixture soak for at least 16 hours. After the soaking period,
using a squirt bottle of distilled water, transfer the mixture into the mixing cup.
Fill the mixing cup about half full with more distilled water. Mix for one minute.
Next transfer the mixture into a 1,000-ml sedimentation cylinder; again, a squirt
bottle may be used to aid the transfer. Fill the cylinder to the 1,000-ml level with
distilled water.

Using a rubber stopper (or the palm of your hand) to cover the top of the cylin-
der, turn the cylinder upside down and back for a period of one minute, invert-
ing the cylinder approximately one turn per second. When finished, place the
cylinder on a level surface and remove the stopper from the top. Immediately
observe the time and record it on the test sheet (see Fig. 3-5). After completion
of shaking, the hydrometer readings should be read and recorded as the actual
reading at the following intervals: 2, 5, 15, 30, 60, 250, and 1,440 minutes. At
each time interval, a control reading should be recorded from the control sedi-
mentation cylinder. Temperature readings are also recorded from the control
sedimentation cylinder at each interval.

Hydrometer readings must be read at the top of the meniscus (the top of the
water surface formed around the hydrometer stem). Between readings, the
hydrometer should be placed in the control cylinder, not left in a test cylinder.
Refer to Fig. 3-6 for a typical test arrangement.

After the final reading has been taken, transfer the material out of the cylinder
onto a #200 sieve and continue to wash it until no more material is observed
to pass through the sieve. Transfer the material retained on the sieve (using a

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36 Chapter 3: Basic Laboratory Tests

Figure 3-5 Hydrometer analysis test sheet.

_____________ gms., Dry wt. of soil before test _____________ gms., Dry wt. of soil ret. on #200 sieve

Hydrometer Readings
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Elap. Percent Particle


Observed
Time Temp. Corrected Finer (K) (L) Diam. (mm)
Time Actual Control
(T) (R) (P) (D)

15

30

60

120

250

1440

squirt bottle as needed) into a previously tared container. Dry the material in
the oven. Enter the weight of the dry material on the test sheet as Dry Weight of
Soil Retained on the #200 sieve.

Calculations
The following calculations are performed at each time interval (see Fig. 3-5):

(R), corrected reading = (actual reading) (control reading),

(P), percent finer = [R (a/s)] (100),

(K), value for specific gravity versus temperature = values from Table 3-7,

(L), effective depth = values from Table 3-8,

and

(D), particle diameter =

where

s = original weight of soil sample,

a = 1.00 (OK for most purposes),

and

T = time in minutes (from test initiation).

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Chapter 3: Basic Laboratory Tests 37

Typical hydrometer test arrangement. Figure 3-6

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Values for K. Table 3-7

Temperature Specific gravity


(C) 2.55 2.60 2.65 2.70 2.75 2.80
16 0.01481 0.01457 0.01435 0.01414 0.01394 0.01374
17 0.01462 0.01439 0.01417 0.01396 0.01376 0.01356
18 0.01443 0.01421 0.01399 0.01378 0.01359 0.01339
19 0.01425 0.01403 0.01382 0.01361 0.01342 0.01323
20 0.01408 0.01386 0.01365 0.01344 0.01325 0.01307
21 0.01391 0.01369 0.01348 0.01328 0.01309 0.01291
22 0.01374 0.01353 0.01332 0.01312 0.01294 0.01276
23 0.01358 0.01337 0.01317 0.01297 0.01279 0.01261
24 0.01342 0.01321 0.01301 0.01282 0.01264 0.01246
25 0.01327 0.01306 0.01286 0.01267 0.01249 0.01232
26 0.01312 0.01291 0.01272 0.01253 0.01235 0.01218
27 0.01297 0.01277 0.01258 0.01239 0.01221 0.01204
28 0.01283 0.01264 0.01244 0.01225 0.01208 0.01191
29 0.01269 0.01249 0.01230 0.01212 0.01195 0.01178
30 0.01256 0.01236 0.01217 0.01199 0.01182 0.01165

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38 Chapter 3: Basic Laboratory Tests

Table 3-8 Values for L, for use with hydrometer 152H.

Actual hydrometer Effective depth, L Actual hydrometer Effective depth, L


reading (cm) reading (cm)
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0 16.3 26 12.0
1 16.1 27 11.9
2 16.0 28 11.7
3 15.8 29 11.5
4 15.6 30 11.4
5 15.5 31 11.2
6 15.3 32 11.1
7 15.2 33 10.9
8 15.0 34 10.7
9 14.8 35 10.6
10 14.7 36 10.4
11 14.5 37 10.2
12 14.3 38 10.1
13 14.2 39 9.9
14 14.0 40 9.7
15 13.8 41 9.6
16 13.7 42 9.4
17 13.5 43 9.2
18 13.3 44 9.1
19 13.2 45 8.9
20 13.0 46 8.8
21 12.9 47 8.6
22 12.7 48 8.4
23 12.5 49 8.3
24 12.4 50 8.1
25 12.2

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Chapter 3: Basic Laboratory Tests 39

Plastic and Liquid Limits Test (ASTM D4318)


This test (sometimes referred to as the Atterberg Limits) is used to determine
the plasticity index (PI) of silty and clayey soils. Commonly a PI of 15 or greater
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(as in Appendix J of the International Building Code) is used to distinguish a
point between low and moderately expansive soil.

The plastic and liquid limits are defined as follows:

Plastic limit: (1) The water content at which a soil will just begin to crumble
when rolled into a thread approximately 18 in. in diameter. (2) The water con-
tent corresponding to an arbitrary limit between the plastic and semisolid
consistency states of a soil.

Liquid limit: (1) The water content at which a pat of soil, cut by a groove
of standard dimensions, will flow together for a distance of in. under the
impact of 25 drops by a standard liquid limits device. (2) The water content
corresponding to an arbitrary limit between the liquid and plastic consis-
tency states of a soil.

Apparatus
For a plastic and liquid limits test, you will need the following:

Mixing bowl: porcelain bowl 4 to 5 in. in diameter.

Rubber-tipped pestle and mortar (bowl).

Spatula: having a flexible blade approximately 3 in. long by in. to in.


wide.

Liquid limits device: a mechanical device consisting of a brass cup with a


hard rubber base, as shown in Fig. 3-9.

Grooving tool: a combination grooving tool and height calibration gauge,


as depicted in Fig. 3-9, or refer to ASTM for an alternative flat style; many
laboratory technicians feel that the rounded grooving toolas shown in this
textis easier to use and may tear the soil less than the flat grooving tool.

Drying containers: small containers about 1 in. in diameter, tared and


numbered with indelible ink.

Scale: accurate to 0.01 g.

Ground glass plate: at least 12 in. square by 38 in. thick.

Sieve: #40 (425 m).

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40 Chapter 3: Basic Laboratory Tests

Figure 3-9 Liquid limit testing device.


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Preparation (Dry Method)


Place a representative portion of the soil sample in a pan; allow it to air dry [or
oven dry at 140F (60C) or less]. Next, break up the sample with a pestle in the
mortar, and then pass the material through a #40 sieve. Weigh out 200 g of the
sample.

Procedure
Place the weighed-out material into the porcelain mixing bowl and add 10 to 15
ml of water. Mix in the water by using the spatula. Continue to mix, knead, and
chop the sample while adding water as needed to bring the soil consistency to
somewhere between the liquid and plastic limits; the soil should have a con-
sistency similar to stiff modeling clay at this point. Break off a portion of the
sample for the plastic limit test (approx 20 g) and place it in an airtight bag or
plastic container to cure.

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Seal the remaining portion of the sample (approx 175 g) in another airtight
container. This portion will be used for the liquid limit test. Let both of these
samples cure for a minimum of 16 hours. This will ensure that the water and soil
particles are thoroughly blended together.
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Plastic Limit
Remove half of the soil to be used for the plastic limit test from the container.
Squeeze and mold the sample into an oblong mass, then place the soil mass on
the glass plate. Use your fingers to roll the soil mass into a thread with a diam-
eter of 18 in. Pick up the thread and remold it into an oblong mass. Again, roll it
into a thread 18 in. in diameter. Repeat this operation until the soil can no longer
be rolled into any 18-in.-diameter threads but crumbles and cracks apart at, or
just before reaching, 18 in. in diameter. Immediately place the crumbled soil into
a container and record the weight (as shown in Fig. 3-10). Place the sample in
the oven to dry at 230F (110C). Repeat this procedure for the remaining half of
the sample. Again, place the crumbled soil into a container, weigh it, and place
it in the oven to dry.

Tip: If the sample is very wet, rolling it on paper (with nonremovable


fibers) will help to absorb moisture.

The point at which the soil breaks apart and can no longer be rolled into a 18-in.
thread is the plastic limit. Any sample that cannot be rolled into a 18-in. thread
(no matter how the moisture is adjusted) should be considered nonplastic.

Liquid Limit
Step 1
Remove from the container the soil to be used for the liquid limit test. Add 3 to
5 ml of water and thoroughly mix by chopping, mixing, and kneading.

Step 2
Place a portion of the soil in the liquid limits device brass bowl (shown in Fig.
3-9). Using a spatula, level the soil pat (without trapping any air bubbles in the
mass) to a thickness of one centimeter, as shown in Fig. 3-11. Using the grooving
tool, cut a groove through the center of the soil pat (again refer to Fig. 3-11).

Tip: When using the grooving tool, try to avoid tearing the sample; it is
helpful to use a rolling motion while cutting the groove.

Step 3
Turn the crank on the liquid limits device at a steady speed (approximately
two drops per second) until the soil mass has flown together to create a -in.
closure. If a closure of in. is achieved at between 30 and 35 drops, proceed to
step 4.

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42 Chapter 3: Basic Laboratory Tests

Figure 3-10 Liquid and plastic limits test sheet.


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Figure 3-11 Liquid limit test in progress.

(A) Soil pot in the brass bowl, ready for test. (B) Soil pot divided by the grooving tool. (C) Soil
pot has flowed closed after the test from the impact of the brass bowl dropping against the hard
rubber base.

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Chapter 3: Basic Laboratory Tests 43

If more than 35 drops are necessary to obtain the -in. closure, add more mois-
ture and remix, as described in step 1. If the sample requires fewer than 30 blows
for proper closure, then the sample is too wet. In that case continue to mix the
sample until it has sufficiently dried back. Do not add more soil to help dry
the sample back; adding dry soil will create an inconsistently mixed sample
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(from lack of curing), thus putting the accuracy of the test in question.

Repeat steps 1 through 3 until the proper closure is achieved at between 30 and
35 blows, then proceed to step 4.

Step 4
Using the spatula, immediately remove a portion of the soil pat (approximately
10 to 15 g) from the -in. closure. Place the sample in a numbered container.
Record the weight and the number of drops on the test sheet, and then place the
sample in the oven to dry at 230F (110C).

Repeat steps 1 through 4 as needed to obtain two more samples: one sample
closing between 20 and 30 drops and one sample obtained from between 15 and
20 drops. This will allow three liquid limit samples to be plotted as points on a
graph.

Step 5
Weigh all of the plastic and liquid limit samples that have been dried in the
oven.

Calculations
Perform the following calculations (see Fig. 3-10):

1. First calculate the percent moisture:

percent moisture = (W/D) 100,

where

(W), weight of water = (wet weight of soil and container)


(dry weight of soil and container)

and

(D), weight of dry soil = (dry weight of soil and container)


(weight of container).

2. Then determine the plastic limit:

plastic limit (PL) = [(percent moisture of plastic limit sample #1) +


(percent moisture of plastic limit sample #2)]/2.

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44 Chapter 3: Basic Laboratory Tests

Figure 3-12 Liquid limit vs. plasticity graph.


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Note: Clay will plot above the A line, while silt will plot below the A line.

3. To determine the liquid limit, proceed as follows: Plot the percent moisture
versus the number of drops for each of the three samples on the liquid limit and
plasticity graph (Fig. 3-12). Then draw an average straight line through the three
points. The graph location at which the sloped line intersects the 25-drop line
will correspond with a moisture at the left side of the graph. This corresponding
moisture percentage is the liquid limit.

4. The plasticity index is calculated by:

PI = LL PL

where LL is the liquid limit and PL is the plastic limit.

5. Using Fig. 3-12, plot the liquid limit against the plasticity index to determine
the USCS (soil type) of the material tested.

Given where the sample plots on the liquid limit and plasticity graph, the mate-
rial can be classified [e.g., as a bluegreen, organic, fat CLAY (OH)].

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Chapter 3: Basic Laboratory Tests 45

Chapter Questions

1. Which type of Proctor uses a 10-lb hammer and an 18-in. drop?


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A) The original Proctor proposed by R. R. Proctor
B) The modified Proctor (ASTM D1557)
C) The standard Proctor (ASTM D698)

2. In ASTM D1557 method A, what size screen is the material sieved


through?
A) #200
B) #40
C) #4

3. Optimum moisture is the point that:


A) A sandy soil should be screened across the #4 sieve
B) A fine-grained soil becomes liquid
C) Soil will compact best in both the field and laboratory
D) No more water can be retained in a soil

4. A 40% solution of sodium hexametaphosphate is used to:


A) Remove dry soil from dirty sieves
B) Break down adhesion of noncohesive soils
C) Soften and break down the adhesion of cohesive soils
D) None of the above

5. The hydrometer analysis is used to determine the particle-size dis-


tribution of:
A) Sand, clay, and silt
B) Sand and colloids
C) Material finer than the #20 sieve
D) None of the above

6. Hydrometer readings should always be taken at the top of the


meniscus.
A) True
B) False

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46 Chapter 3: Basic Laboratory Tests

7. A sample that cannot be rolled smaller than 18 in. without crumbling


is to be considered:
A) CL/ML (per the liquid limit and plasticity graph)
B) Medium plastic
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C) Nonplastic
D) To have a high liquid limit

8. PI = LL PL.
A) True
B) False

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