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2, 181187

TAO - W E I F E N G

Les resultats des etudes precedentes sur l'utilisation du test

du cote de chute pour determiner la limite plastique des sols

indiquent de des travaux de recherche additionnels sont

necessaires. Les recherches actuelles sont consacrees a la

modication de la technique de preparation des specimens, a

l'examen des rapports entre profondeur de penetration du

cone et teneur en eau, et l'estimation de la limite plastique

en utilisant le rapport profondeur de penetration du cone/

teneur en eau. On a produit des bagues specimen que l'on a

utilisees pour remplacer le gobelet specimen, an de faciliter

la preparation des specimens. Des donnees sur vingt-six sols,

portant sur une large plage de limites liquides de 30% a

526%, indiquent que le rapport entre l'algorithme de la

profondeur de penetration du cone et celui de la teneur en

eau est lineaire. En consequence, on produit une equation

lineaire avex deux parametres fonction du sol pour l'estimation de la limite plastique. Pour un certain sol, on est en

mesure de determiner la valeur de parametres tributaires du

sol avec un nombre d'essais au cone pouvant etre inferieur a

quatre, que l'on peut substituer ensuite dans l'equation pour

evaluer la limite plastique. Les limites plastiques calculees

pour les sols analyses sont comprises entre 08 at 12, avec

une valeur moyenne de 1, multipliees par les limites plastiques mesurees. On a evalue les effets de la vitesse de

deformation et du rapport de resistance non draine sur

l'evaluation de la limite plastique et ils se sont averes

limites.

determine the plastic limit of soils show that further research is warranted. The present investigation devotes itself

to modication of the specimen preparation technique, examination of the relationship between depth of cone penetration and water content, and estimation of the plastic limit

using the penetration depth against water content relationship. Specimen rings are made and used to replace the

specimen cup so as to facilitate the preparation of specimens. Data of 26 soils, covering a wide range of liquid limits

from 30% to 526%, show that the logarithm of depth of

cone penetration against logarithm of water content relationship is linear. Therefore, a linear equation with two soildependent parameters is developed for estimation of the

plastic limit. For a soil, the value of the soil-dependent

parameters can be determined from as little as four fallcone tests and substituted into the equation to estimate the

plastic limit. The computed plastic limits of the soils analysed are within 0812, with an average value of 1, times

the measured plastic limits. The effects of strain rate and

undrained strength ratio on the estimation of the plastic

limit are evaluated and found to be limited.

contents near the plastic limit, the relationship between logarithmic depth of fall-cone penetration and water content has been

used to estimate the value of the plastic limit. Based on the

critical state theory, Wood & Wroth (1978) and Belviso et al.

(1985) suggest that the logarithmic depth of penetration against

water content relationship is linear between the liquid limit and

the plastic limit, and the slope of this relationship is equal to

one half of the plasticity index. Then, the plastic limit can be

computed by subtracting the plasticity index from the liquid

limit. However, the relationship has been found to be highly

non-linear for a number of soils (e.g. Karlsson, 1961; Wood,

1985; Wasti & Bezirci, 1986; Harison, 1988).

The penetration depth corresponding to the liquid limit is

20 mm for the 308 British cone. Hansbo (1957) proposes the

following equation:

INTRODUCTION

liquid limit of soils has been studied in detail (e.g. Terzaghi,

1927; Sowers et al., 1959; Karlsson, 1961; Sherwood & Riley,

1970; Littleton & Farmilo, 1977; Garneau & Le Bihan, 1977;

Wroth & Wood, 1978; Houlsby, 1982; Wood, 1982; Whyte,

1983; Wood, 1985; Wasti & Bezirci, 1986; Leroueil & Le

Bihan, 1996; Farrell et al., 1997). The British Standard (BS

1377:pt2: 1990), the Swedish Standard (SS 027120:1990) and

the Canadian Standard (CAN/BNQ 2501-092-M-86) have included the determination of the liquid limit by using fall-cones.

On the other hand, only a few studies (e.g. Wood & Wroth,

1978; Belviso et al., 1985; Harison, 1988) have focused on the

determination of the plastic limit by the fall-cone test.

It was generally recognized that fall-cone tests were difcult

to perform at water contents near the plastic limit, since soil

samples were stiff and difcult to mix (Wood & Wroth, 1978;

Whyte, 1983; Wasti & Bezirci, 1986; Harison, 1988; Stone &

Phan, 1996). Furthermore, in BS 1377 (1990), Test 2(A)

(British Standards Institution, 1990), the test procedure for

determination of liquid limit includes the following: `The remixed soil shall be pushed into the cup with a palette knife,

taking care not to trap air.' The process of placing the soil into

the specimen cup is inuenced by individual judgement and is

probably the most difcult step in the fall-cone test. In fact,

pushing soil into the cup may not be good practice, since the

soil is repeatedly loaded, although this effect is difcult to

evaluate. This problem becomes more serious as the water

content of the soil sample decreases.

Since it is difcult to carry out the fall-cone test at water

su k

W

d2

(1)

weight of cone, and d is depth of penetration. It can be seen

from equation (1) that undrained shear strength is inversely

proportional to the square of the depth of penetration. The data

of Skempton & Northey (1953) show that the undrained shear

strength at the plastic limit is about 100 times the undrained

shear strength at the liquid limit. Thus, it can be computed from

equation (1) that the depth of cone penetration at the plastic

limit is about 2 mm for the 308 cone. Harison (1988) suggests a

bilinear model indicating that the relationship is linear for

depths of penetration either greater or smaller than 14 mm.

Therefore, the plastic limit can be estimated by extrapolating a

linear relationship obtained from two to three fall-cone tests

with depth of penetration smaller than 14 mm. However, with

the general lack of sufcient published information on the

logarithmic depth of cone penetration against water content

relationship in between depths of penetration of 14 cm and

October 1999.

Discussion on this paper closes 4 August 2000; for further details see p. ii.

Chung Yuan Christian University.

181

182

FENG

In summary, it appears that further studies are warranted in

the following areas:

(a) modication on the specimen preparation technique

(b) examination of the shape of the relationship between

logarithm depth of cone penetration and water content,

especially for depths of penetration less than 14 mm

(c) estimation of the plastic limit by using the depth of

penetration and water content relationship.

This paper presents the results of a study focused on the abovementioned areas.

TEST PROGRAMME

Inc.), with a 308 cone (weight 80 g) was used during this

investigation. As difculties in specimen preparation are primarily associated with placing soil samples into the specimen cup,

the cup was modied during this investigation by removing the

bottom of the cup, keeping the diameter and the height of the

cup unchanged. As a result, the specimen cup became a specimen ring. Furthermore, one end of the ring was sharpened, as

shown in Fig. 1(a), to facilitate penetration into soil samples. In

fact, a stainless steel ring 55 mm in diameter, 40 mm in height

and 2 mm in thickness was used for depths of cone penetration

in between 25 mm and 10 mm. For depths of cone penetration

less than 10 mm, a shallower stainless steel ring (20 mm in

height) was used so that smaller amounts of soil were needed

for the tests.

The specimen preparation procedure started with mixing the

soil sample thoroughly on a large square glass plate (30 3

30 cm) at water contents slightly higher than the liquid limit. A

single batch of the mixed soil sample was then transferred to a

small square glass plate (10 3 10 cm) to make a soil mound, as

shown in Fig. 1(b), with lateral and vertical dimensions greater

than the dimensions of the specimen ring used. Two spatulas

were used to mix the soil samples and to make the soil mound,

to reduce the possibility of trapping air within the specimen.

Furthermore, only small pressures are exerted on the soil, so

that their effect on the test result may be ignored. The specimen

ring was then placed on top of the soil mound with the

levelling of the ring can be done with a hand level and a small

glass plate placed at the top of the ring. After the initial

levelling, the ring was pushed downwards by hand until it

reached the glass plate, as shown in Fig. 1(d). A wire-saw and a

straight edge were then used to remove excess soil from the top

of the ring, so as to obtain a at surface, as shown in Fig. 1(e).

Lastly, the soil specimen together with the small glass plate was

transferred to the base stand below the fall-cone for the penetration test.

Samples of kaolin, bentonite and three natural soils were

prepared at water contents slightly higher than the liquid limits

and then stored overnight before testing. For each soil, the fallcone tests were carried out starting from water contents slightly

higher than the liquid limit to water contents as near the plastic

limit as possible. After each fall-cone test, the water content of

the soil specimen was measured. The remaining soil sample

was spread over the large glass plate for air-drying for the next

fall-cone test. The time required for proper air-drying of the

soil sample depends on a number of factors, such as the contact

areas between the soil and the air, the plasticity of the soil, etc.

In order to dene better the penetration depth against water

content relationship, the fall-cone tests were carried out at as

many water contents as possible.

RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN DEPTH OF CONE PENETRATION AND

WATER CONTENT

and water content for the soils tested during the present investigation are shown in Figs 26. It can be seen from these

gures that these relationships are all non-linear in nature and

the minimum depths of penetration are as low as 31 mm.

Incidentially, these data can be used to check Harison's (1988)

bilinear model. In order to quantify the non-linearity of the

curves, secant slopes of the curves between 14 mm penetration

and 5 mm penetration for Sinjun clay, Taipei clay, Panama clay,

kaolin and bentonite are rst determined as 19%, 22%, 73%,

23% and 360%, respectively. In contrast, the tangent slopes of

the curves at 5 mm penetration for Sinjun clay, Taipei clay,

Panama clay, kaolin and bentonite are 12%, 9%, 55%, 13% and

225%, respectively. It is thus apparent from these data that the

use of the bilinear model to estimate the value of the plastic

limit will result in an underestimation.

Specimen ring

H

In order to estimate the plastic limits, the non-linear regression curves shown in Figs 26 may be manually extended with

(a)

60

Sinjun clay

PL(conventional) = 19%

Soil

10 cm

Soil

Glass plate

(b)

(c)

Soil

Soil

(d)

(e)

Water content: %

50

40

30

20

Fig. 1. Side views of (a) the specimen ring, (b) the soil mound and

the glass plate, (c) the specimen ring placed on top of the soil

mound, (d) the specimen ring fully penetrating the soil mound, and

(e) excess soil removed from the top of the specimen ring

10

30

20

10

7

5

3

Penetration depth: mm

Fig. 2. Logarithm of penetration depth against water content relationship for Sinjun clay

500

60

Taipei clay

PL(conventional) = 24%

40

30

300

200

100

20

10

30

20

10

7

5

3

Penetration depth: mm

Panama clay

PL(conventional) = 59%

90

60

30

30

20

10

7

5

3

Penetration depth: mm

20

10

7

5

3

Penetration depth: mm

rela-tionship for bentonite

2 mm. Results of the estimations show that the plastic limits of

Sinjun clay, Taipei clay, Panama clay, kaolin and bentonite are

20%, 25%, 61%, 26% and 38%, respectively, which agree well

with the plastic limit values obtained from conventional tests,

given in Figs 26. It may be noted from Figs 26 that 814

data points are shown for each soil. The large number of data

points ensures that the curves are well dened. It is impractical

in engineering practice to carry out such a large amount of tests

for estimation of the plastic limit.

On the other hand, the data shown in Figs 26 can be replotted on loglog scales, as shown in Fig. 7. Similar plots can

be made using the data of Skempton & Northey (1953),

Karlsson (1961), Wood, (1985), Wasti & Bezirci (1986) and

Harison (1988), as shown in Figs 812, respectively. Based on

the data shown in Figs 712, a linear model is proposed for the

loglog relationship and is expressed by the following equation:

150

120

30

rela-tionship for Taipei clay

Water content: %

Bentonite

PL(conventional) = 37%

400

Water content: %

Water content: %

50

rela-tionship for Panama clay

(2)

the slope of the linear relationship, and d is the depth of cone

penetration. Values of c and m obtained from linear regression

analyses of the data presented in Figs 712 are listed in Table 1.

1000

60

Kaolin

PL(conventional) = 25%

Bentonite

Water content: %

50

Water content: %

183

40

30

100

Panama clay

Kaolin

20

Sinjun clay

10

Taipei clay

10

30

20

10

7

5

3

Penetration depth: mm

rela-tionship for kaolin

30

20

10

7

5

3

Penetration depth: mm

content rela-tionships for the ve soils tested

184

FENG

It may be noted from Table 1 that the bentonite samples have

liquid limits of about 423% and 526%, the kaolin samples have

liquid limits of 50% and 59%, and the other 22 natural soils

show a wide range of liquid limits ranging from 30% to 125%.

Both of the bentonite specimens gave the same m value of 1,

which is much larger than the m values from 0216 to 0569 for

the natural soils. A large value of m indicates a higher rate of

decrease in water content with decreasing depth of penetration.

A large value of c implies a large value of the plastic limit. The

Panama clay specimen tested has an organic content of 12%,

which is probably responsible for its large c value of 47%. The c

values of the Bandung clays are rather high, that is 3039%;

probably these soils are organic to some degree, but information

on the composition of these soils is absent.

The existence of the linear relationship as expressed by

equation (2) is useful for estimation of the plastic limit. For a

soil, c and m can be determined from results of as few as four

fall-cone tests with depths of penetration evenly distributed

between 25 mm and 3 mm. Equation (3) can then be used to

compute the plastic limit:

content rela-tionships according to the data of Skempton & Northey

(1953)

content rela-tionships according to the data of Karlsson (1961)

content relationships according to the data of Wood (1985)

PL c(2) m

(3)

equation (3) are used to compute the plastic limit values of the

26 soils. The computed plastic limits are compared with the

plastic limits determined by the conventional method, as shown

in Fig. 13. The dashed lines in Fig. 13 show that the computed

plastic limits are within 0812 times the measured plastic

limits, with an average value of 10. The discrepancies between

the measured and the computed plastic limits may result from

several reasons, such as the undrained strength ratio of 100

adopted and problems associated with the conventional plastic

limit test.

The empirical ratio of undrained strength at the plastic limit

to undrained strength at the liquid limit is estimated from the

data of Skempton & Northey (1953) as 100. However, Whyte

(1982, 1983) suggests that the strength ratio derived from the

data of Skempton & Northey (1953) should be about 70.

Furthermore, the data of Karlsson (1961) indicate a range of the

strength ratio from 50 to 100 for some Swedish clay and a

strength ratio of about 200 for both a quick clay and a varved

clay. Now as equation (2) is developed, it is possible to examine

the effect of the strength ratio on the estimated plastic limit.

According to equation (1), strength ratios of 50, 100 and 200

correspond to depths of penetration of 28, 2 and 14 mm,

respectively. For the soils listed in Table 1, the corresponding

water contents are computed using both equation (2) and values

of c and m, and the results are also shown in Table 1. It may

be concluded from Table 1 that, except for the bentonite, the

estimated plastic limits are affected by the strength ratio

assumption around 1020%, which is consistent with the data

shown in Fig. 13. The bentonite probably has a strength ratio

slightly lower than 100, as the computed water content of 34%,

corresponding to depth of penetration of 2 mm, is slightly

smaller than the measured plastic limit of 37%.

The measured plastic limits shown in Fig. 13 were determined by the conventional plastic limit test, in which a soil

thread was rolled to 3 mm diameter before it crumbled on

rolling. The water content of the crumbled soil thread has been

dened as the plastic limit. However, the stress system applied

to the soil thread during rolling is highly complicated and is not

controlled. Whyte (1982) reported that the plastic limit of a clay

determined in different laboratories ranged from 19% to 39%,

with an average plastic limit of 23%. He further concluded that

the rolling thread test does not provide reliable and consistent

results for the plastic limit. Since the data shown in Fig. 13

come from at least four different groups of people and four

different laboratories, it is expected that some uncontrolled

factors during the conventional plastic limit test have played a

role in the discrepancies between the measured and the computed plastic limits.

The fall-cone test is much more reliable than the conventional plastic limit test. As can be seen in both Fig. 14 and

content relationships according to the data of Wasti & Bezirci

(1986)

185

content relationships according to the data of Harison (1988)

Table 1. Values of c and m parameters of clays and water contents computed from strength ratios of 50, 100 and 200

Soil

LLCasagrande : %

c: %

w1:4 : %

w2 : %

w2:8 : %

w1:4 =w2 :

w2:8 =w2

36

43

125

50

423

97

73

30

80

83

70

63

54

35

59

65

526

110

52

100

86

78

72

65

63

59

14

17

47

20

17

26

21

13

28

26

25

22

21

12

21

23

16

20

21

39

31

30

30

32

30

31

0322

0322

0321

0301

1

0436

0410

0266

0352

0425

0360

0360

0308

0350

0343

0345

1

0569

0335

0312

0341

0318

0292

0237

0239

0216

16

19

52

22

24

30

24

14

32

30

28

25

23

14

24

26

22

24

24

43

35

33

33

35

33

33

18

21

59

25

34

35

28

16

36

35

32

28

26

15

27

29

32

30

26

48

39

37

37

38

35

36

20

24

66

27

48

41

32

17

40

40

36

32

29

17

30

33

45

36

30

54

44

42

41

41

38

39

089

090

088

088

071

086

086

088

089

086

088

089

088

093

089

090

069

080

092

090

090

089

089

092

094

092

111

114

112

108

141

117

114

106

111

114

113

114

112

113

111

114

141

120

115

113

113

114

111

108

109

108

Sinjun clay

Taipei clay

Panama clay

Kaolin

Bentonite

Shellhaven clay

London clay

Horten clay

Gosport clay

Swedish clay

Swedish clay

Swedish clay

Swedish clay

Drammen clay

Kaolin

Gault clay

Bentonite

Turkey soil

Turkey soil

Bandung clay

Bandung clay

Bandung clay

Bandung clay

Bandung clay

Bandung clay

Bandung clay

Table 2, both the logarithm of penetration depth against logarithm of water content relationships and the (c, m) data of

kaolin obtained by ve persons demonstrate excellent repeatability of the fall-cone test. It is worthy of note that four of the

ve persons had no previous experience with the fall-cone test

and were taught only once how to run the test. It is clear from

the present investigation that mixing the soil specimen thoroughly during preparation is one of the most important steps in

the fall-cone test.

STRAIN RATE EFFECT

saturated clays is a function of strain rate. Since the fall-cone

test is in fact a strength test, the effect of strain rate, if any, on

the test results must be evaluated.

In the absence of data on the time rate of cone penetration,

an average strain rate for 20 mm and 4 mm of penetration may

Reference

Present investigation

Present investigation

Present investigation

Present investigation

Present investigation

Skempton & Northey (1953)

Skempton & Northey (1953)

Skempton & Northey (1953)

Skempton & Northey (1953)

Karlsson (1961)

Karlsson (1961)

Karlsson (1961)

Karlsson (1961)

Wood (1985)

Wood (1985)

Wood (1985)

Wasti & Bezirci (1986)

Wasti & Bezirci (1986)

Wasti & Bezirci (1986)

Harison (1988)

Harison (1988)

Harison (1988)

Harison (1988)

Harison (1988)

Harison (1988)

Harison (1988)

cone penetrating into the specimen can be computed using

equation (4):

V 0:075h3

(4)

cone penetration must be dened so that induced volumetric

strain can be determined. The inuence zone may be assumed

to have a conical shape having a height equal to the depth of

penetration and a diameter of three times the cone diameter

(Houlsby, 1982). Then the volumetric strain induced by cone

penetration is 11% and is independent of the depth of penetration. On the other hand, experience obtained during the present

investigation showed that a penetration of 20 mm takes about

ve times as long as a penetration of 4 mm. Therefore, a ratio

of average strain rates between 20 mm and 4 mm of penetrations can be computed using equation (5):

186

FENG

on undrained shear strength is computed using equation (6) to

be 7% between 20 mm and 4 mm penetrations.

CONCLUSIONS

presented in the previous paragraphs:

limits

100

Water content: %

Kaolin

10

30

20

10

7

5

3

Penetration depth: mm

relationships determined by ve persons for the repeatability study.

One person determines one relationship as represented by a

regression line passing through points of the same symbol.

Table 2. Values of c and m for kaolin determined for the

repeatability study

Test

no.

PL (measured):

%

c: %

PL (computed): %

1

2

3

4

5

25

25

25

25

25

20

19

19

20

21

0301

0295

0316

0281

0281

25

23

24

24

26

t20

_ 4

5

_ 20

t4

(5)

be computed by using equation (6):

su(4) su(20)

su(20)

_ 4

_ 20

C =Cc

(6)

secondary compression index, and cc is the compression index

(Terzaghi et al., 1996). For example, the value of C =Cc can be

taken as 004 for inorganic clays, and the effect of strain rate

using specimen rings to hold the specimens. The process of

specimen preparation with the specimen ring is faster and

easier than that with a specimen cup, and it reduces the

chances of trapping air in the specimen. Furthermore, the

specimen ring is pushed into the soil, instead of pushing

soil into the specimen cup. For liquid limit determinations,

the specimen ring retained the dimensions of the specimen

cup. For depths of penetration less than 10 mm, a specimen

ring of 20 mm in height can be used so that less soil is

needed for the fall-cone test.

(b) The relationship between logarithmic depth of penetration

and water content in the range from the liquid limit to the

plastic limit is generally non-linear. The minimum depth of

penetration attainable with the specimen ring is about

3 mm. For the ve soils tested during the present investigation, an attempt to extend the non-linear regression

curves from around 3 mm to 2 mm penetration gives a close

estimate of the plastic limits, though these non-linear curves

are dened by 814 data points. On the other hand, the

relationship between logarithmic depth of penetration and

logarithmic water content is linear. This relationship can be

dened by as few as four data points with depths of

penetration evenly distributed between 25 mm and 3 mm.

This makes the fall-cone test easier to perform to determine

the plastic limit.

(c) Based on the linear model of the relationship between

logarithmic depth of penetration and logarithmic water

content and an undrained strength ratio of 100, an equation

is derived for estimation of the plastic limit. This equation

includes two soil-dependent parameters which can be

determined from at least four fall-cone tests and substituted

into the equation to estimate the plastic limit. For the 26

soils analysed, the computed plastic limits are within 08

12, with an average value of 10, times the measured plastic

limits. Factors such as the assumption of strength ratio of

100 and problems associated with the conventional plastic

limit test could have contributed to the discrepancies

between the computed and the measured plastic limits.

The plastic limits computed using the undrained strength

ratios of 50 and 200 are affected by 1020% of the plastic

limits estimated using the undrained strength ratio of 100

for most of the soils analysed. The strain rate effect in the

fall-cone test is small. For a variation in depth of

penetration from 20 mm to 4 mm, the strain rate effect on

undrained strength is estimated as 7% for inorganic clays.

REFERENCES

Belviso, R., Ciampoli, S., Cotecchia, V. & Federico, A. (1985). Use of

the cone penetrometer to determine consistency limits. Ground

Engng 18, No. 5, 2122.

British Standards Institution (1990). Methods of test for soils for civil

engineering purposes. British Standards Institution BS 1377. London.

Canadian Standards Association and Bureau de normalisation du Quebec

(1986). Soils-Determination of liquid limit by the Swedish fall cone

penetrometer method and determination of plastic limit. CAN=BNQ

2501-092-M-86.

Farrell, E., Schuppener, B. & Wassing, B. (1997). ETC 5 fall-cone

study. Ground Engng 30, No. 1, 3336.

Garneau, R. & Le Bihan, J. P. (1977). Estimation of some properties of

Champlain clays with the Swedish fall-cone. Can. Geotech. J. 14,

No. 3, 571581.

Hansbo, S. (1957). A new approach to the determination of the shear

strength of clay by the fall-cone test. R. Swedish Geotech. Inst.

Proc. No. 14, 747.

Harison, J. A. (1988). Using the BS cone penetrometer for the determination of the plastic limits of soils. Geotechnique 38, No. 3,

433438.

Houlsby, G. T. (1982). Theoretical analysis of the fall-cone test. Geotechnique 32, No. 2, 111118.

Karlsson, R. (1961). Suggested improvements in the liquid limit test,

with reference to ow properties of remoulded clays. Proc. 5th

ICSMFE 1, 171184.

Leroueil, S. & Le Bihan, J. P. (1996). Liquid limits and fall cones. Can.

Geotech. J. 33, No. 5, 793798.

Littleton, I. & Farmilo, M. (1977). Some observations on liquid limit

values. Ground Engng 10, No. 4, 3940.

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