Soil Sampling and Laboratory Testing from Test Pit Excavation

Soil Sampling and Laboratory Testing from Test Pit Excavation


Soil sampling and laboratory testing are crucial components of geotechnical engineering, providing valuable information about the physical and mechanical properties of soil. Test pit excavation serves as a primary method for obtaining soil samples from the subsurface, enabling further analysis in the laboratory. This article explores the process of soil sampling and laboratory testing from test pit excavation, discussing the importance of sample representativeness, sampling techniques, sample preservation, laboratory testing methods, and interpretation of test results.

1. Importance of Sample Representativeness

Obtaining representative soil samples is vital to ensure accurate laboratory testing results and reliable geotechnical analysis. Key considerations include:

1. Depth and Location:

Selecting the appropriate depth and location for sampling to capture the soil profile and geotechnical characteristics relevant to the project. This may involve multiple sampling points within the test pit excavation.

2. Sampling Density:

Determining the required sampling density based on project specifications, soil variability, and the level of detail required for the analysis. Adequate sampling density ensures a comprehensive understanding of soil conditions.

3. Sample Disturbance:

Minimizing sample disturbance during excavation and handling to preserve the natural state of the soil and avoid altering its properties. Disturbed samples may not accurately represent the in-situ conditions.

2. Sampling Techniques

Various sampling techniques are employed during test pit excavation to collect soil samples. Some commonly used techniques include:

1. Hand Auger Sampling:

Using a hand auger to collect disturbed or undisturbed soil samples from shallow depths. This technique is suitable for cohesive soils and loose granular materials.

2. Split Spoon Sampling:

Utilizing a split spoon sampler or thin-walled tube to obtain undisturbed samples from deeper depths. Split spoon sampling is often employed in cohesive soils, sands, and fine-grained materials.

3. Shelby Tube Sampling:

Employing a thin-walled sampling tube, such as a Shelby tube, to collect relatively undisturbed samples in cohesive soils. Shelby tube sampling is particularly useful for sampling cohesive soils with low permeability.

4.  Piston Sampling:

Using a piston sampler to obtain high-quality undisturbed samples from cohesive soils or weak rock formations. The piston sampler ensures minimal sample disturbance during extraction.

3. Sample Preservation and Handling

Proper preservation and handling of soil samples are essential to maintain their integrity and prevent any alteration of properties. Important considerations include:

1. Sample Storage:

Storing soil samples in appropriate containers, such as airtight plastic bags or containers, to prevent moisture loss or absorption, contamination, and changes in moisture content.

2. Labeling and Documentation:

Accurately labeling each sample with relevant information, including location, depth, date, and project identification, to ensure proper identification and traceability.

3. Sample Transportation:

Ensuring that samples are transported in a manner that prevents physical damage, exposure to extreme temperatures, and contamination. Prompt transportation to the laboratory is essential to minimize any potential changes in sample properties.

4. Laboratory Testing Methods

Once soil samples are collected from the test pit excavation, they are subjected to laboratory testing to determine various geotechnical parameters. Common laboratory tests include:

1. Grain Size Analysis:

Determining the particle size distribution of the soil sample using sieving or sedimentation methods. This information helps classify the soil and evaluate its engineering properties.

2. Atterberg Limits:

Assessing the liquid limit, plastic limit, and plasticity index of cohesive soils to determine their consistency and behavior.

3. Compaction Tests:

Conducting compaction tests, such as the Proctor test, to determine the maximum dry density and optimum moisture content of the soil for compaction purposes.

4. Shear Strength Tests:

Shear strength tests are performed in the laboratory to evaluate the soil’s resistance to shear and deformation. These tests provide essential information for slope stability analysis, foundation design, and soil behavior characterization. Common shear strength tests include:

1. Direct Shear Test:

The direct shear test measures the shear strength of soil along a predefined failure plane. The soil sample is subjected to normal stress and shearing forces to determine the shear strength parameters, such as cohesion and angle of internal friction.

2. Triaxial Compression Test:

The triaxial compression test evaluates the shear strength and stress-strain behavior of soil under confined conditions. The sample is confined within a cell and subjected to axial and radial stresses, allowing the determination of parameters such as the shear strength envelope, stress-strain relationships, and pore pressure generation.

3. Unconfined Compression Test:

The unconfined compression test is conducted on cohesive soils without confining pressure. It measures the undrained shear strength of the soil sample and provides insights into its shear strength characteristics under unconsolidated and undrained conditions.

4. Vane Shear Test:

The vane shear test is specifically performed on soft cohesive soils. A vane is inserted into the soil sample, and torsional forces are applied to measure the shear strength and determine the undrained shear strength parameters.

5. Interpretation of Test Results

Interpreting the results of laboratory testing is crucial for understanding the geotechnical properties and behavior of the soil. Key aspects include:

1. Shear Strength Parameters:

Analyzing the shear strength parameters obtained from shear strength tests, such as cohesion and angle of internal friction, to assess the soil’s stability and resistance to shear forces.

2. Soil Classification:

Utilizing the results of grain size analysis and Atterberg limits tests to classify the soil according to recognized classification systems, such as the Unified Soil Classification System (USCS) or the AASHTO classification system.

3. Engineering Properties:

Using laboratory test results to determine important engineering properties of the soil, such as permeability, compressibility, bearing capacity, and shear modulus. These properties are essential for geotechnical design and analysis.

4. Design Considerations:

Incorporating the laboratory test results into geotechnical design and analysis to ensure the appropriate selection of foundation types, slope stability measures, and construction techniques based on the soil’s characteristics.


Soil sampling from test pit excavation provides the opportunity to perform laboratory testing and analyze the geotechnical properties of soil. By implementing appropriate sampling techniques, ensuring proper sample preservation and handling, conducting a range of laboratory tests including shear strength tests, and interpreting the test results accurately, geotechnical engineers can gain valuable insights into the soil’s behavior and make informed decisions regarding project design and construction. Understanding the soil’s shear strength and other geotechnical parameters is crucial for ensuring the stability and safety of structures built on or in the soil.

AKM Geotechnical and Test Pit Excavation

At AKM Geotechnical, we offer comprehensive test pit excavation services that adhere to industry best practices and prioritize safety and accuracy. Our experienced team of geotechnical professionals is equipped with the necessary expertise and equipment to perform efficient and reliable test pit excavations.

Our commitment to quality continues through laboratory testing, where we employ state-of-the-art equipment and interpret the test results accurately to provide clients with valuable insights for their geotechnical analysis and design. When it comes to test pit excavation, AKM Geotechnical is your trusted partner for reliable and professional services.

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