Standard Active Last Updated: Feb 26, 2020 Track Document
ASTM D4647/D4647M-13(2020)

Standard Test Methods for Identification and Classification of Dispersive Clay Soils by the Pinhole Test

Standard Test Methods for Identification and Classification of Dispersive Clay Soils by the Pinhole Test D4647_D4647M-13R20 ASTM|D4647_D4647M-13R20|en-US Standard Test Methods for Identification and Classification of Dispersive Clay Soils by the Pinhole Test Standard new BOS Vol. 04.08 Committee D18
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Significance and Use

5.1 The pinhole test provides one method of identifying the dispersive characteristics of clay soils that are to be or have been used in earth construction. The piping failures of a number of homogeneous earth dams, erosion along channel or canal banks, and rainfall erosion of earthen structures have been attributed to the colloidal erosion along cracks or other flow channels formed in masses of dispersive clay (2).

5.2 This test method models the action of water flowing along a crack in an earth embankment. Other indirect tests, such as the double hydrometer test (Test Method D4221), the crumb test (3, 4), that relates the turbidity of a cloud of suspended clay colloids as an indicator of the clay dispersivity, and chemical tests that relate the percentage of sodium to total soluble salt content of the soil are also used as indicator tests of clay dispersibility (2). The comparison of results from the pinhole test and other indirect tests on hundreds of samples indicates that the results of the pinhole test have the best correlation with the erosional performance of clay soils in nature.

5.3 Method A and Method C of the pinhole test require the evaluation of cloudiness of effluent, final size of the pinhole, and computation of flow rates through the pinhole in order to classify the dispersive characteristics of the soil. Method B requires only the evaluation of the cloudiness of effluent and final size of the pinhole to classify the dispersive characteristics of the soil. The computation of flow rates through the pinhole in Method A serves primarily as a guide to the proper equipment and specimen performance under sequential pressures applied during the test. All methods produce similar results and any method can be used to identify dispersive clays.

5.4 The use of Method A or Method C results in the accumulation of data relative to sequential flow rates through the pinhole and consequent enlargement or erosion of the hole. The pinhole erosion test was developed for the purpose of identifying dispersive soils and is not intended to be a geometrically scaled model of a prototype structure. Since the theory of similitude was not used in the design of the pinhole test, quantitative data are not obtained. The quantity of flow through the pinhole, amount of soil erosion, or the rate of soil erosion should not be extrapolated to actual field conditions (3). However, such data may be useful in performing qualitative evaluations of the consequences of such erosion in terms of dam failure, loss of life and property. They also may be used in considering the cost effectiveness of defensive design measures necessary to minimize the effects of failure due to dispersive clays. For example, the amount of colloidal erosion that will occur in a soil classed as ND2 (very slightly dispersive) will be very small for a relatively long period of time. Such erosion may not be significant in evaluating the cost-benefit relationships in projects where public safety is not involved or where normal maintenance procedures will handle the problem. In such cases, classifying the soil as ND (nondispersive) using Method B of the pinhole test should be adequate.

5.5 Pinhole tests that result in classifying soil as slightly dispersive (ND3 by Method A or Method C or SD by Method B) indicate high uncertainty about the existence of significant problems to be considered in the design or stability of a structure. In such cases, it is advisable to resample and test a number of other soils from the same area to generate an adequate statistical sample for problem evaluation. The original slightly dispersive sample may come from an area on the edge of a more highly dispersive soil.

5.6 In a few physiographic areas or geoclimatic conditions, or both, neither the pinhole test nor the other indicator tests provide consistent identification of dispersive clays (5, 6, 7). In such cases, the results of the tests (8, 9) should be evaluated in terms of cost effectiveness and design judgment (7).

5.7 For some projects, it may be desirable to perform the pinhole test using eroding fluids other than distilled water (8, 10). In such cases, Method A, Method B, or Method C may be used to identify the dispersive characteristics of the soil and compare the results with those obtained using distilled water.

Note 1: Notwithstanding the statement on precision and bias contained in these test methods: The precision of these test methods is dependent on the competence of the personnel performing it, and the suitability of the equipment and facilities used. Agencies which meet the criteria of Practice D3740 are generally considered capable of competent and objective testing. Users of these test methods are cautioned that compliance with Practice D3740 does not in itself assure reliable testing. Reliable testing depends on several factors; Practice D3740 provides a means of evaluating some of those factors.


1.1 This test method presents a direct, measurement of the dispersibility and consequent colloidal erodibility of clay soils by causing water to flow through a small hole punched in a specimen. The results of the tests are qualitative and provide general guidance regarding dispersibility and erodibility. This test method is complemented by Test Method D4221.

1.2 This test method and the criteria for evaluating test data are based upon results of several hundred tests on samples collected from embankments, channels, and other areas where clay soils have eroded or resisted erosion in nature (1).2

1.3 Three alternative procedures for classifying the dispersibility of clay soils are provided as follows:

1.3.1 Method A and Method C, adapted from Ref (1), classify soils into six categories of dispersiveness as: dispersibility (D1, D2), slight to moderately dispersive (ND4, ND3), and nondispersive (ND2, ND1).

1.3.2 Method B classifies soils into three categories of dispersiveness as: dispersibility (D), slightly dispersive (SD), and nondispersive (ND).

1.4 All observed and calculated values shall conform to the guidelines for significant digits and rounding established in Practice D6026.

1.5 Units—The values stated in either SI units or inch-pound units are to be regarded separately as standard. The values stated in each system may not be exact equivalents; therefore, each system shall be used independently of the other. Combining values from the two systems may result in non-conformance with the standard.

1.6 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, health, and environmental practices and determine the applicability of regulatory limitations prior to use.

1.7 This international standard was developed in accordance with internationally recognized principles on standardization established in the Decision on Principles for the Development of International Standards, Guides and Recommendations issued by the World Trade Organization Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Committee.

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Book of Standards Volume: 04.08
Developed by Subcommittee: D18.06
Pages: 11
DOI: 10.1520/D4647_D4647M-13R20
ICS Code: 93.020