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A H M 531 Shrinkage limit and liquid limit By: Ahmed Essam Mansour


¾ To measure the liquid limit of a soil sample using the penetration


¾ To measure the shrinkage limit of a soil sample.

¾ To obtain quantitive indication of the amount of volume change

that can occur in a cohesive soil.

General discussion:

Penetration test:
This test is an automated test used for measuring the liquid limit, where
Cone Pentrometer is used. This test uses a standard cone with 30º apex
angle and a total mass of 80 g, and a standard dish of 55 mm diameter
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and 40 mm deep is filled with soil and stuck flush.
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The basic of this test is that it measures the penetration of the cone in the
soil sample for 5 s; this time is determined by electric timer which
switches of automatically after 5 s of operating. The penetration scale
consists of two arrows; a small one that measures mille meters and the
large one which measures mille meters * 10-2.
Many trials should be done and a graph on semi-log scale is drawn to
relate the water content in each trial (the Abscissa representing the
penetration in mm and the ordinate representing the water content).
The graph will be linear and the two quantities will be directly related,
that is the more penetration in the sample the more water it contains.
Liquid limit is defined as the water content that meets a penetration of
20 mm on the graph.

Shrinkage limit test:

Volume changes in soil can be a very dangerous problem in engineering
structures; for example if a soil used in a highway expands or contracts
this will produce a bumpy road. Volume changes occur over a period of
time and depend on both soil type and the change in water content, but
most of the damage will occur if differential water contents produce
different amount of volume change.

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A H M 531 Shrinkage limit and liquid limit By: Ahmed Essam Mansour

Shrinkage is soil contraction and is mainly a cause of soil suction, which

is the phenomenon that produces capillary rise of water in soil pores
above the water table.
Two main sources of soil shrinkage are:
1. Capillary rise:
At the top of the capillary column the pressure will be negative
pressure i.e. tension, which will cause the soil grains to be in
tension and gets closer to each other.

2. Drying:
As the soil dries, the pores start to empty from water , during this
empting process surface tension develop and the grains gets closer
to each other.

In this experiment we are considered in the drying shrinkage, where the

contraction continues till the shrinkage limit.
The shrinkage limit is defined as the water content below which no
further change in volume of soil occurs. From this definition it can be
seen that the higher the shrinkage limit he soil has the more preferred this
soil is.
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The shrinkage limit can be measured by using the following formula;
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wo: Initial water content.
Vd: Volume of dish.
Vf: Volume of final volume (Dry volume)
Ms: Mass of the dried sample.

The test is simply held by placing the soil sample in the shrinkage dish
and stuck flush, and then dried gradually, so that no cracking for the soil
sample will occur, for 48 hours where the first 24 hours will be air drying.
The volumes in Equation 1 can be approached by two methods:
• Wax method
• Mercury method

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A H M 531 Shrinkage limit and liquid limit By: Ahmed Essam Mansour

In our test, the mercury method was used where the volume of empty dish
is obtained by filling it with mercury and stuck it flush, weighing the
mass of mercury contained in the dish and then the volume of the
container will be obtained by:

Md: Mass of dish
Mdm: Mass of mercury + dish
ρm: The mass density of mercury, which equals 13.53 g/cm3

The volume of dry sample is obtained by fully merging it in mercury, see

Figure 1, and weighing the displace mercury, and then the volume is
calculated by:

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Ms: Mass of dry sample
Mdis: Mass of displaced mercury
ρm: The mass density of mercury, which equals
13.53 g/cm3

Shrinkage ratio (SR), is a quantity that gives indication of how much

volume change may occur with changes in water content.

Volumetric shrinkage:

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A H M 531 Shrinkage limit and liquid limit By: Ahmed Essam Mansour

Linear shrinkage:
B.S. 1377 specifies a method for measuring the linear shrinkage, where
standardized mold takes the shape of half cylinder of 12.5 mm diameter
and 140 mm length. The mold is fill with soil sample and then dried in
the same manner the shrinkage sample was dried, and then the final
length of the specimen was measured.
Using the following formula the Linear shrinkage is measured:

Lo: Initial length (the length of the mold)
Lf: Final length of the specimen

For purposes of accuracy several readings are taken for each length and
then the average for each reading is calculated and used in the formula.
The length of dried sample is measured by using a string and a ruler as
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the specimen will be buckled and its length can’t be measured by using a
ruler only.
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An approximate value of linear shrinkage can be obtained form
volumetric shrinkage using the formula:

This equation assumes that the reduction in soil volume is both linear and

Sample identification:

Light brown clay sample, which was mix thoroughly with water so that
the sample was homogenous.

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A H M 531 Shrinkage limit and liquid limit By: Ahmed Essam Mansour

• Cone Pentrometer, for the liquid limit measurement.

• Metal shrinkage dish, should be made of non-reactive material with


• Grease

• Standard linear shrinkage mold

• Plate with three prong

• Mercury

• Sensitive balance

• String and a ruler A H M 531

• The Civil
4 numbered cans. Engineering Center


Cone Pentrometer test:

1. The 4 numbered cans were weighed.

2. The container of the cone Pentrometer device was filled with soil
specimen on three times, and were stroke on the bench to prevent
air voids from taking place in the container, and it was stuck flush.

3. The container containing the specimen was placed under the cone
of the Pentrometer, and the cone is then released for 5 seconds,
and the reading of the penetration was taken.

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A H M 531 Shrinkage limit and liquid limit By: Ahmed Essam Mansour

4. Small portion of the tested soil was taken into one of the
identified cans and its weight was recorded.

5. Steps 3 and 4 were repeated for three more trials.

6. The four cans were then removed to the oven for 24 hours, and
then their weights were recorded.

Shrinkage limit:
1. The dish was greased before starting the lab so that the soil won’t
stick on its walls.
The weight of coated dish was obtained Md.

2. The shrinkage dish was filled then with soil sample on layers and
tapped gently on the table to remove any entrapped air. The soil
shall be stuck flush in the dish and the outer wall of the dish was
carefully cleaned.
The weight of dish + wet soil was obtained Mdw.

3. The shrinkage dish filled with wet soil was then air dried for 24
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hours and then place in the oven for more 24 hours.

4. TheThe Civil
dish was Engineering
taken out Center
of the oven and the weight of dish + dry
soil was obtained Ms.

5. The empty dish then was filled with mercury and stuck it flush in
the dish.
The weight of the dish + mercury was obtained Mdm.

6. The dry soil was placed in a cup containing mercury the surface
and pushed into it, the displaced mercury was gathered into a
container and it weight was obtained Mdis.

Linear Shrinkage:
1. The standardized mold was filled with soil sample to the top and
the surface was leveled.

2. The mold containing the sample was then placed into the oven and
dried gradually to avoid cracking of the soil sample.

3. After 48 hours, the mould was removed from the oven and the
length of the mold was measured two times and the length of the
specimen was measured 3 times.

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A H M 531 Shrinkage limit and liquid limit By: Ahmed Essam Mansour


Trial Penetration Can # Wt of empty Wt of empty Wt of empty

# can can + wet soil can + dry soil

Can# Wt of water Water content %

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Sample of calculations:

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A H M 531 Shrinkage limit and liquid limit By: Ahmed Essam Mansour

Discussion and results:

The results obtained from the liquid limit form the cone Pentrometer are
more accurate and reproducible than the casagrande method used before,
as it is operated by electricity and is automated.
From the shrinkage limit of this soil sample, I think that this soil can’t be
used in projects with high humidity and water conditions as it will shrink
a lot during drying before stopping at its low shrinkage limit.
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The Linear shrinkage obtained from Formula 7 is nearly equal the one
obtained form Formula 6, which indicated its accuracy and that is can be
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used to measure the linear shrinkage without taking time to do the test.
The shrinkage index value indicates a large region the soil needs to pass
to move from the viscous condition to the solid condition.

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