1970
SUBMITTED
BY R .
C.
DICK 1
This report describes a method by which the time required to draw a grain size curve from hydrometer test data is reduced from approx 20 rain to less than 5 rain per sample. Briefly, this method consists of the plotting of elapsed time and uncorrected hydrometer readings directly onto a grain size graph by the use of a transparent grid mounted on a tracing table. The construction of the grid is described. Because accepted methods of computation are used throughout, no approximations are introduced. INTRODUCTION The grain size distribution of soils is a major consideration in most soil classification systems. The grain size of particles finer than the No. 200 sieve (that is silts and clays) must be determined by the hydrometer test. One of the main disadvantages in the use of the hydrometer test for routine soil classification is the time required to compute and plot results. Each hydrometer reading requires several timeconsuming computations and corrections. The results are then plotted on a grain size graph. Several shortcut methods have been devised, but these make some approximations regarding specific gravity and temperature. The direct plotting method described in this report eliminates computations and reduces plotting time; it also incorporates corrections for varying temperature and specific gravity. This 1 Senior Laboratory Technician for Caseco Consultants Limited in Vancouver, B. C., and the paper is a report prepared for The Society of Architectural and Engineering Technologists of
B.C.
method was used in 1962 to plot approx 300 hydrometer tests. Many of these tests were also computed and plotted by standard procedures, and several were checked by an independent soils consultant; no inaccuracies were discovered. To the best of the writer's knowledge, the direct plotting method is unlike any other shortcut procedure in use at this time. REVIEW OF THE HYDROMETER TEST The following section summarizes the calibration, test procedure, and calculations involved in the hydrometer test. Particular attention is paid to the corrections for varying temperature and specific gravity. Readers unfamiliar with the hydrometer test are referred to any text on soil mechanics (1,2,3,4)2 for a more detailed description of Stokes' law and the assumptions made in the standard methods of its computation.
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126
Copyright9
by ASTMInternational
www.astm.org
127
to determine the effective depth of the hydrometer bulb at any given stem reading and the density of the soilwater suspension at that depth. The relationship between hydrometer reading, Rh, and depth of center of volume, is established by measuring the distance, Zu, from the center of volume to each of several stem readings. A graph of these points indicates the distance to any other stem reading? Since the soil suspension is opaque, readings on the hydrometer stem must be taken at the top of the meniscus. A correction, C~, equal to the height of the meniscus, is added to the initial reading, R'h, to give the reading Rh at the free liquid surface. If the hydrometer is left immersed in the soil suspension, the depth of the center of volume of the hydrometer, Z~, is equivalent to the effective depth. If, however, the hydrometer is immersed after some settlement has taken place, the effective depth below the original liquid surface, Z~i, becomes the depth of the center of volume minus half the rise of liquid surface due to the displacement of the hydrometer.4 Thus, if the hydrometer is in the suspension from the beginning of settlement the effective depth is:
Z R = Zt R  Zm ~
the suspended soil, R , , is the difference between the total hydrometer reading R~ and the hydrometer reading at the same temperature in a completely settled mixture, Rw :
R, = Rh  R~
= (R'~ + C~) = i%
The value of (R'w) is determined for each temperature, using a mixture of water and dispersing agent of the proportions used in the soil suspension. This procedure eliminates the necessity for separate dispersing agent and temperature corrections. Each hydrometer reading is marked onto a Stokes' law nomograph 6 at both the ZR and ZR~ values.
Test _Procedures
As stated previously, the density of the suspension at depth ZR or Zn~ must be determined. The density increase due to
3 See Appendix A for explanation of terms. 4 Lambe, T. W., Soil Testing f o r Engineers, John ~u and Sons, Inc., New York, 1958, p. 156. 5 Note t h a t t h e meniscus correction in t e r m s of depth bears t h e opposite sign to t h a t expressed in units of scale reading. See Appendix A.
The sample to be tested is ground, soaked, mixed, and transferred to a glass cylinder in the normal manner. ~ The cylinder is shaken, placed on a bench, and the timer started. The hydrometer is quickly immersed and left in the suspension, readings being taken in some logarithmic sequence, such as: 15 s, 30 s, 1 min, and 2 min. If the hydrometer is left in the suspension longer than 2 rain, settling soil particles coming to rest on the shoulders of the bulb weigh the hydrometer down, causing lower readings. The hydrometer is therefore removed from the suspension and the procedure of shaking, placing on bench, and starting the timer is repeated. Readings are taken at 2 min, 4 rain, 8 min, etc., the hydrometer being ira6 Lambe, T. W., Soil Testing for Engineers,
John Wiley and Sons, Inc., New York, 1958, p. 37. 7 L~mbe, T. W., S o i l Testing f o r Engineers, John Wiley and Sons Inc., New York, 1958, pp. 3234.
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128
mersed before each reading and removed immediately after. When the final hydrometer reading has been taken, the contents of the cylinder are poured over a No. 200 sieve and and the percent retained is determined.
Calculations
The effective particle diameter and the percent of the sample finer than this diameter are determined as follows:
Maximum Grain Size in SuspensionThe maximum grain size in suspension, D, at each reading is computed by using the Stokes' law nomograph and the appropriate Rh value in the Z scale: the ZR calibration up to the first 2rain reading, the ZR~ calibration for the second 2min and subsequent readings.
(R'h  R'2
A hydrometer graduated for weight in suspension, usually grams per liter, will require:
w % = ~  . (R'h  R'w)
100
is the tabulation of all possible R~ and elapsed time combinations, with the resulting D, assuming values for specific gravity and temperature. A tabulation of R'a and temperature combinations gives W%, assuming values for specific gravity, weight of sample, and dispersing agent concentration. A grain size curve is drawn by plotting for each reading the W% and D obtained from these tabulations. A second method is to assume that a given elapsed time results in a given D, regardless of the hydrometer reading. These values can be drawn as vertical lines on the grain size graph, and the computed W % located on them to form a curve. These vertical lines can be included on printed grain size forms) The objection to the above two methods is that both assume a specific gravity and constant temperature which m a y not hold true for the sample being tested. The second method also assumes that the grain size is dependent on the elapsed time only, and is not affected by the hydrometer reading (that is, the effective depth of the bulb), an assumption which is not quite true. The direct plotting grid described in the following section resembles the U.S.B.R. form, 9 but makes no approximations of D values. I t also allows variations of specific gravity and temperature to be taken into account without requiring additional calculations. THE DIRECT PLOTTING ~/[ETHOD A basic grid is constructed using assumed values for specific gravity, s This method is used by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which states, "If a more accurate size determination is desired, the method given in the standards of the American Society for Testing Materials, 1958, Par~ 4, "Mechanical Analysis of Soils," D 422 54 T, 1960, p. 421, inay he used." 9 U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Earth Manual, Denver, Colo., 1960, p. 423.
Plotting of ResultsThe values of D and W % are plotted on a graph of percent finer than versus logj0 D. The result is a curve representing the grain size distribution of the soil sample.
COMPARISON OF METHODS Several methods have been devised for the rapid plotting of hydrometer test results. The most elementary of these methods
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129
temperature, weight of sample, and dispersing agent concentration. A correction grid is then prepared to compensate for variations of temperature or specific gravity (or both.)
Construction of the Basic Grid The hydrometer is calibrated, and the calibration data is marked onto a Stokes' law nomograph as described previously. Values are assumed for standard specific gravity and temperature, a convenient sample weight is chosen, and an effective dispersing agent concentration is determined. Using these conditions and the calibrated nomograph, the values of D and W% are computed and plotted for all initial hydrometer readings, R'h, at all standard time intervals. These points are connected by lines representing given Rth and given time interval. The result is a grid composed of horizontal lines, each representing one Rth, and nearvertical lines, each representing one time interval. 1~ The grid thus obtained is traced in India ink onto a transparent paper or cloth, the border of which is drawn to correspond exactly with the border of the grain size graph. Direct Plotting Using the Basic Grid
Any hydrometer test performed at standard specific gravity and temperature can now be plotted directly as follows. A blank grain size graph is laid over the grid on a tracing table, the borders of both sheets being carefully aligned. By plotting the points represented by the Rth and elapsed time for each reading, a grain size curve is obtained for the minus No. 200 portion of the sample.
gravity or temperature (or both), other than those selected as standard for construction of the basic grid, a correction grid must be prepared as follows. A point is chosen on the basic grid, and its R'h and elapsed time are noted. Using this R'h and elapsed time, D and W% are computed for a wide range of temperature and specific gravity combinations. These points are then plotted on a grain size graph and connected by lines representing given temperature and given specific gravity. The lines form a small correction grid, the center point of which is the point originally selected from the basic grid. This correction grid is checked by repeating the procedure for several points selected from other parts of the basic grid. The correction grid indicates the direction and distance that a point will be moved if the temperature or specific gravity, or both, have values other than those selected as standard. It should be noted that the correction grid for the weight in suspension type of hydrometer differs slightly from that for the density type. This difference is due to the fact that in the former type, the corrected hydrometer reading is multiplied by 100/W~ to obtain W%, whereas the latter type uses the factor (IO0/W~)(G,/G,  1), which changes with varying specific gravity. The densitytype hydrometer is therefore slightly more accurate than the weight in suspension type, which is manufactured for one specific gravity. One tracing of the correction grid is drawn below the basic grid. Two more tracings, reversed and inverted, are drawn, one at each top corner of the sheet. The standard point in each of these grids is made to coincide with one corner of the margin.
Direct Plotting Using the Correction Grid In plotting the results of a hydrometer
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230
PLOTTING GRAIN SIZF. CURVES ~ROM HYDROMETER TEST DATA the course of a test, this procedure is considerably faster than realigning the graph sheet several times. Because of the small size of the correction grid, visual adjustment of the points has been found to be sufficiently accurate.
CONCLUSIONS
test run at a temperature or specific gravity (or both) other than those used to construct the basic grid, points may be located by either of two procedures. One of these procedures is more convenient where the temperature remains relatively constant throughout the test; the other is more suitable for changing temperatures. At Constant TemperatureA blank grain size graph is placed over the grid on a tracing table. The graph is aligned with the two reversed correction grids so that the corners of the graph's margin overlie the points representing the applicable temperature and specific gravity. The R'h and elapsed time points are now plotted onto the graph using the basic grid only. By moving the graph sheet in this fashion, all points have been corrected for one combination of specific gravity and temperature, With Changing TemperatureA blank grain size graph is placed over the grid tracing so that the margins of the graph are aligned with those of the tracing. Initial points are located by use of the basic grid. These points are then moved in the direction and distance indicated by the correction grid. Where temperatures fluctuate during
The direct plotting method provides a rapid means of drawing grain size curves for soil samples. Because all computation is eliminated, grain size curves can be drawn in less than one quarter of the time required by conventional methods. As it is constructed by the use of accepted procedures and incorporates corrections for varying temperature and specific gravity, the direct plotting grid has none of the inaccuracies inherent in other shortcut methods.
Acknowledgments
The writer wishes to express his gratitude to M. R. Vanderburgh of H. G. Acres and Co. for his original suggestion which led to the development of the method described in this report. Gratitude also is extended to Caseco Consultants, in whose Mica Creek field laboratory the writer developed and successfully used the method during 1962.
(1) American Society for Testing and Materials, Procedures for Testing Soils, Philadelphia, 1960. (2) "Great Britain, Road Research Laboratory," Soll Mechanics for Road Engineers, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1957.
IEE E C S ~FRN E (3) Lambe, T. W., Soil Testing for Engineers' John Wiley and Sons, Inc., New York, 1958" (4) U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Earth Manual' Denver, 1960.
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PLOTTING
GRAIN
TEST
DATA
131
APPENDIXES
APPENDIX A   T E ~ t s USED I N
Note: I n t h i s e x a m p l e C,~ RI,~ Rw Rth Rh R'h  R'w ]~h Rw
STEM READINGS
C O M P U T A T I O N OF H Y D R O M E T E R
TEST
= 1.8 = 1.0 = 2.8 = 21.2 = 23.0 = 21.2   1.0 = 20.2 23.0 2.8 20.2
DEPTHS IN GENTIMETERS Surfcce of completely settled mixture
Rh  RW.
Rw
R~
Rh
i f S u r f o c e of
ZR
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132
APPENDIX BDIRECT PLOTTING GRID SUPERIMPOSEDON GRAIN SIZE GRAPH (Weight in Suspension Type)

IO~ 20o6,
~ ~
,~ e _= e _<~ . ~ ~
ELAPSED
TIME
8 0 0
o.o I iiii
,o.o
"iiiii'
~
L! !!!! ! l ~ IIlililllll
~
0.0
0
CORRECTION GRID
d
30~C. 20Oc, IO~ C.
o GRAIN
SIZES
IN
MILLIMETERS
(D)
Hydrometer
No. 9046 R
~P
~"o~, ~
50.{ 25.( 20.( 15.0 IO.C 5.0 0.0
,
~ ~
_~ ~, '.~ .~ .~.~
"
= =~
~~ ~
ELAPSED
TIME
SIEVE
SIZES
"
0 8 0
~
~.~
"~ 
!lO0
i,0
70 60 5O 140 50 !20 10 0
(D)
o
5
g
GRAIN ~o SIZES
g
IN
o
MILLIMETERS
~o
CORRECTION GRiD
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