Standard Test Method for Particle-Size Distribution (Gradation) of Fine-Grained Soils Using the Sedimentation (Hydrometer) Analysis
5.1 Particle-size distribution (gradation) is a descriptive term referring to the proportions by dry mass of a soil distributed over specified particle-size ranges. The gradation curve generated using this method yields the amount of silt and clay size fractions present in the soil based on size definitions, not mineralogy or Atterberg limit data.
5.2 Determination of the clay size fraction, which is material finer than 2 µm, is used in combination with the Plasticity Index (Test Methods D4318) to compute the activity, which provides an indication of the mineralogy of the clay fraction.
5.3 The gradation of the silt and clay size fractions is an important factor in determining the susceptibility of fine-grained soils to frost action.
5.4 The gradation of a soil is an indicator of engineering properties. Hydraulic conductivity, compressibility, and shear strength are related to the gradation of the soil. However, engineering behavior is dependent upon many factors, such as effective stress, mineral type, structure, plasticity, and geological origin, and cannot be based solely upon gradation.
5.5 Some types of soil require special treatment in order to correctly determine the particle sizes. For example, chemical cementing agents can bond clay particles together and should be treated in an effort to remove the cementing agents when possible. Hydrogen peroxide and moderate heat can digest organics. Hydrochloric acid can remove carbonates by washing and Dithionite-Citrate-Bicarbonate extraction can be used to remove iron oxides. Leaching with test water can be used to reduce salt concentration. All of these treatments, however, add significant time and effort when performing the sedimentation test and are allowable but outside the scope of this test method.
5.6 The size limits of the sedimentation test are from about 100 µm to about 1 µm. The length of time required to obtain a stable initial reading on the hydrometer controls the upper range of results, and the test duration controls the lower range.
5.7 The shape and density of the grains are important to the results. Stokes’ Law is assumed to be valid for spherical particles even though fine silt- and clay-sized particles are more likely to be plate-shaped and have greater mineral densities than larger particles.
Note 5: The quality of the result produced by this standard is dependent on the competence of the personnel performing it, and the suitability of the equipment and facilities used. Agencies that meet the criteria of Practice D3740 are generally considered capable of competent and objective testing/sampling/inspection/etc. Users of this standard are cautioned that compliance with Practice D3740 does not in itself assure reliable results. Reliable results depend on many factors; Practice D3740 provides a means of evaluating some of those factors.
1.1 This test method covers the quantitative determination of the distribution of particle sizes of the fine-grained portion of soils. The sedimentation or hydrometer method is used to determine the particle-size distribution (gradation) of the material that is finer than the No. 200 (75-µm) sieve and larger than about 0.2-µm. The test is performed on material passing the No. 10 (2.0-mm) or finer sieve and the results are presented as the mass percent finer versus the log of the particle diameter.
1.2 This method can be used to evaluate the fine-grained fraction of a soil with a wide range of particle sizes by combining the sedimentation results with a sieve analysis resulting in the complete gradation curve. The method can also be used when there are no coarse-grained particles or when the gradation of the coarse-grained material is not required or not needed.
Note 1: The significant digits recorded in this test method preclude obtaining the grain size distribution of materials that do not contain a significant amount of fines. For example, clean sands will not yield detectable amounts of silt and clay sized particles, and therefore should not be tested with this method. The minimum amount of fines in the sedimentation specimen is 15 g.
1.3 When combining the results of the sedimentation and sieve tests, the procedure for obtaining the material for the sedimentation analysis and calculations for combining the results will be provided by the more general test method, such as Test Methods D6913 (Note 2).
Note 2: Subcommittee D18.03 is currently developing a new test method “Test Method for Particle-Size Analysis of Soils Combining the Sieve and Sedimentation Techniques.”
1.4 The terms “soil” and “material” are used interchangeably throughout the standard.
1.5 The sedimentation analysis is based on the concept that larger particles will fall through a fluid faster than smaller particles. Stokes’ Law gives a governing equation used to determine the terminal velocity of a spherical particle falling through a stationary liquid. The terminal velocity is proportional to the square of the particle diameter. Therefore, particles are sorted by size in both time and position when settling in a container of liquid.
1.5.1 Stokes’ Law has several assumptions which are: the particles are spherical and smooth; there is no interference between the particles; there is no difference between the current in the middle of the container and the sides; flow is laminar; and the particles have the same density. These assumptions are applied to soil particles of various shapes and sizes.
1.6 A hydrometer is used to measure the fluid density and determine the quantity of particles in suspension at a specific time and position. The density of the soil-water suspension depends upon the concentration and specific gravity of the soil particles and the amount of dispersant added. Each hydrometer measurement at an elapsed time is used to calculate the percentage of particles finer than the diameter given by Stokes’ Law. The series of readings provide the distribution of material mass as a function of particle size.
1.7 This test method does not cover procurement of the sample or processing of the sample prior to obtaining the reduced sample in any detail. It is assumed that the sample is obtained using appropriate methods and is representative of site materials or conditions. It is also assumed that the sample has been processed such that the reduced sample accurately reflects the particle-size distribution (gradation) of this finer fraction of the material.
1.8 Material Processing—Material is tested in the moist or as-received state unless the material is received in an air-dried state. The moist preparation method shall be used to obtain a sedimentation test specimen from the reduced sample. Air-dried preparation is only allowed when the material is received in the air-dried state. The method to be used may be specified by the requesting authority; however, the moist preparation method shall be used for referee testing.
1.9 This test method is not applicable for the following soils:
1.9.1 Soils containing fibrous peat.
1.9.2 Soils containing less than approximately 5 % of fine-grained material (Note 1).
1.9.3 Soils containing extraneous matter, such as organic solvents, oil, asphalt, wood fragments, or similar items (Note 3).
Note 3: If extraneous matter, such as wood, can be easily removed by hand, it is permissible to do so. However, there may be cases where the extraneous matter is being evaluated as part of the material and it should not be removed from the material.
1.9.4 Materials that contain cementitious components, such as cement, fly ash, lime, or other stabilization admixtures.
1.10 This test method may not produce consistent test results within and between laboratories for the following soils. To test these soils, this test method must be adapted and these adaptations documented.
1.10.1 Soils that flocculate during sedimentation. Such materials may need to be treated to reduce salinity or alter the pH of the suspension.
1.10.2 Friable soils in which processing changes the gradation of the soil. Typical examples of these soils are some residual soils, most weathered shales, and some weakly cemented soils.
1.10.3 Soils that will not readily disperse, such as glauconitic clays or some dried plastic clays.
1.11 Samples that are not soils, but are made up of particles may be tested using this method. The applicable sections above should be used in applying this standard.
1.12 Units—The values stated in SI units are to be regarded as standard. Except the sieve designations, they are identified using the “alternative” system in accordance with Practice E11, such as 3-in. and No. 200, instead of the “standard” of 75-mm and 75-µm, respectively. Reporting of test results in units other than SI shall not be regarded as non-conformance with this test method. The use of balances or scales recording pounds of mass (lbm) shall not be regarded as nonconformance with this standard.
1.13 All observed and calculated values shall conform to the guidelines for significant digits and rounding established in Practice D6026, unless superseded by this test method.
1.13.1 The procedures used to specify how data are collected/recorded and calculated in the standard are regarded as the industry standard. In addition, they are representative of the significant digits that generally should be retained. The procedures used do not consider material variation, purpose for obtaining the data, special purpose studies, or any considerations for the user’s objectives; and it is common practice to increase or reduce significant digits of reported data to be commensurate with these considerations. It is beyond the scope of these test methods to consider significant digits used in analysis methods for engineering data.
1.14 This standard does not purport to address all of the safety concerns, if any, associated with its use. It is the responsibility of the user of this standard to establish appropriate safety and health practices and determine the applicability of regulatory limitations prior to use.
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