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Direct Shear Test

To determine the undrained shear strength of a sandy to silty soil.

• IS 2720 (Part 13)- 1986 Methods of test for soils: (Part -13) Direct Shear Stress
• IS 2720 (Part 2)- 1973 Methods of test for soils: (Part -2) Determination of water content


 Direct Shear Test apparatus
Fig 1: Direct Shear Test apparatus

Undisturbed specimen- Specimen of required size shall be prepared in accordance with IS 2710 (Part-1)- 1983.

a) Cohesive soil may be compacted to the required density and moisture content, the sample extracted and then trimmed to the required size. Alternatively, the soil could also be compacted to the specified density and moisture content directly within the shear box after fixing the two halves of the shear box together by the means of fixing screws.

b) Cohesionless soil may be taped in the shear box itself with the base plate and grid plate or porous stone as required in place at the bottom of the box.

The cut specimen shall be weighed and trimmings obtained during the cutting shall be used to obtain the moisture content. Using this information, the majority dry density of the specimen within the shear box shall be determined.

The direct shear test is one among the oldest strength tests for soils. In this laboratory, a direct shear test device will be used to determine the shear strength of a cohesionless soil (i.e., angle of internal friction (ɸ). From the plot of shear stress verses the horizontal displacement, the maximum shear stress is obtained for a specific vertical confining stress. After the experiment is run several times for various vertical confining stresses, a plot of the utmost shear stress verses the vertical (normal) confining stress for every of the tests is produced. From the plot, a straight-line approximation of the Mohr – Coulomb failure envelope curve can be drawn, ɸ may be determined, and for cohesionless soils (c=0), the shear strength can be computed from the following equation:

τ = σ tanɸ



  1. The portion is fit into shear box with the help of specimen, plain grid plate over the base plate at the bottom of the specimen and plain grid plate at the top of the specimen in the load frame.
  2. The loading pad is placed on the top grid plate. The vessel should be provided in order that the sample doesn’t get dried during the test.
  3. The required nominal stress is applied and the rate of longitudinal displacement/ shear displacement is adjusted so that no drainage can occur in the sample during the test.
  4. The upper part of the shear box is raised such that a gap of about 1mm is left between the two parts of the box.
  5. The horizontal shear load to failure is applied or to 20 percent longitudinal displacement whichever occurs first.
  6. The shear readings indicated are noted by the proving ring assembly and the corresponding longitudinal displacement at regular intervals.
  7. If necessary, the vertical compression, if any, of the soil specimen my be measured to serve as a check to ensure that drainage has not taken place from the soil specimen.
  8. At the end of the test, the specimen is removed from the box and the final moisture content is measured.
  9. The specimen of same density is at least tested three times.


  1. Proving ring (stress gauge) constant = kg/ division.
  2. Dial gauge (strain gauge) constant = mm/ division.
  3. Deformation rate =  mm/ minute.
  4. Shear box size = cm3
  5. Area of shear box = cm2
  6. Normal stress = kg/cm2


Displacement dial reading Displacement, d (mm) Area correction (mm2) Corrected Area, Ac = A0 (1-d/3) Stress dial reading Shear force (N) Shear stress (N/mm2)
0 0
20 0.2
40 0.4
60 0.6
80 0.8
. .
. .
. .


Normal stress (kg/cm2) Shear stress at failure (kg/cm2) Cohesion intercept Angle of shearing resistance

The cohesion intercept and angle of shearing resistance are determined plotting graph between shear stress at failure and normal stress. This test is simple and fast for sands. The sample is normally saturated before the test is run. For this experiment we use clean sand as a sample so there is no problem as the pore pressure dissipates readily. However, in case of highly plastic clays, it is merely necessary to have suitable strain rate so that the pore pressure can dissipate with time. Direct shear test is useful when cohesionless soil are to be tested. In case of cohesive soil drainage time will be more and there is no control over drainage as in case of triaxial test hence it is suitable for sandy soils.


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Kanwarjot Singh

Kanwarjot Singh is the founder of Civil Engineering Portal, a leading civil engineering website which has been awarded as the best online publication by CIDC. He did his BE civil from Thapar University, Patiala and has been working on this website with his team of Civil Engineers.

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