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HERIOT-WATT UNIVERSITY

SCHOOL OF LIFE SCIENCE



DETERMINATION OF LIQUID AND PLASTIC LIMITS

Liquid Limit Cone Penetration method

This is the preferred method of determining the liquid limit of soils. It is based on the measurement of
penetration into the soil of a standardised cone of specific mass (80g). At the liquid limit the cone
penetration is 20mm.

Apparatus

(1) Penetrometer apparatus
(2) Cone for the penetrometer, made of stainless steel with a smooth polished surface. A length of
approximately 35mm and a sharp point. The cone angle is 30
o
and a combined mass (cone and
sliding shaft) of 80g.
(3) Flat glass plate, about 500m square and 10mm thick.
(4) Metal cups, of brass or aluminium alloy, 55mm diameter and 40mm deep. The rim must me
parallel to the base, which must be flat.
(5) Wash bottle containing distilled or de-ionised water.
(6) Palette knifes or spatulas.
(7) Glass beakers (50cc) (moisture determination).

Procedure

(1) A sample of ~200g, air dried soil passing the 425m BS sieve is required.

(2) Place the soil on the glass plate and mix thoroughly with a little distilled or de-ionised water, using
the palette knifes or spatulas. If the plastic limit test is also to be done, set aside a small portion in
a sealed container or bag before adding too much water, and while the soil is still firm. To the
remainder of the soil add more water, a little at a time, and work it into a thick homogenous paste.

(3) Place the paste into an airtight container, and seal. Allow the sample to cure for a period of ~24
hours, or overnight in a refrigerator, to allow the water to permeate through the soil mass. For soils
of a low clay content, such as very silty soils, the curing period can be omitted and the test carried
out immediately after thorough mixing.

(4) Check that the apparatus is calibrated and the cone is falling freely through the housing when the
release button is pressed.

(5) Remix the soil from the container after maturing. Remix the sample thoroughly for at least 10
minutes. Some soils, especially heavy clays, may need a longer mixing period. It is important at
this stage to obtain a uniform distribution of water throughout the sample.

(6) Keep the soil together in the middle of the glass plate to minimise any moisture loss. Keep the soil
covered with a damp cloth or polythene when not mixing.

(7) Press the soil paste into the cup working from the side into the middle. Avoid trapping air at this
stage. Finally smooth off level with the rim.