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Designation USBR 6255-09

Procedure for Performing Direct Shear

and Sliding Friction Testing Using a
Portable Direct Shear Device Introduction
This procedure is under the jurisdiction of the Materials Engineering and
Research Laboratory, code 86-68180, Technical Service Center, Denver,
Colorado. The procedure is issued under the fixed designation USBR 6255. The
number immediately following the designation indicates the first year of acceptance
or the year of last revision.

1. Scope The test is conducted in the undrained

state with a normal external loading
1.1 Explanation.- This designation applied.
establishes the guidelines,
requirements, and procedure for Note 1.-This method makes no
performing direct shear (break bond) provision for pore pressure
and sliding friction testing (see note measurements. Thus, the strengths
1) using a portable direct shear determined are in terms of total stress,
device. This test method covers the uncorrected for pore pressure.
determination of the direct shear and
sliding friction strengths of intact Note 2.-This method becomes
specimens and specimens that contain inappropriate when local dilatation of
a natural or artificial joint or a non-planar joint is inhibited either
discontinuity. Peak and residual shear totally or partially because of the
strengths are calculated as a function stiffness of the surrounding joint or
of applied normal stress to the plane the prevalent local boundary
of shearing. From the test results, four conditions. In such cases, more
relationships are derived: elaborate testing not discussed here
should be undertaken.
(1) shear stress and normal stress
1.2 Context.-This designation is
(2) shear stress and shear described in the context of obtaining
displacement (shear stiffness) field data for the indexing of rock for
designs of slopes or foundations for
(3) normal stress and normal Reclamation structures.
displacement (normal
stiffness) 1.3 Application.-This designation
applies to hard and soft rock.
(4) normal displacement and
shear displacement (angle of 1.4 Units.- Stating the values in
asperities) SI/metric (inch-pound) units is to be
regarded as standard.
USBR 6255-09

1.5 Caveats.- This designation does USBR 6545 Performing In Situ Direct
not purport to address all the safety Shear Testing of Rock using
issues associated with its use and may Borehole Shear Device
involve use of hazardous materials,
equipment, and operations. The user USBR 9300 Checking, Rounding, and
has the responsibility to establish and Reporting of Laboratory Data
adopt appropriate safety and health
practices. Also, the user must comply 2.2 ASTM Documents:
with prevalent regulatory codes while
using this procedure. ASTM D 4554 Standard Test Method
for In Situ Determination of
1.6 Sources.- This designation Direct Shear Strength of
reflects the information available Rock Discontinuities
from American Society for Testing
and Materials, International Society 2.3 ISRM Documents:
of Rock Mechanics, and Reclamation.
Part 2: Suggested Method for
2. Applicable Documents Laboratory Determination of Shear
Strength, Rock Characterization
2.1 USBR Procedures: Testing and Monitoring, E. T. Brown
(ed.), Pergamon Press, 1981, PP. 135-
USBR 1000 Standards for Linear 137.
Measurement Devices
3. Summary of Method
USBR 1007 Calibrating Dial
Indicators 3.1 Open Discontinuities.-To test
the shear strength of a rock specimen
USBR 1040 Calibrating Pressure containing an open discontinuity (i.e.,
Gages joint), carefully encapsulate the upper
and lower halves of the rock
USBR 3000 Using Significant Digits specimen into separate upper and
in Calculating and Reporting lower halves of the mold. Ensure that
Laboratory Data the plane of the contained joint
(discontinuity) during testing is
USBR 3910 Standard Terms and coincident with the contact surface of
Symbols Relating to Rock the upper and lower halves of the
Mechanics shear box. After proper hardening of
the encapsulating material, remove
USBR 5300 Determining Moisture the encapsulated halves of the
Content of Soil and Rock by specimen and place them into
the Oven Method respective halves of the portable shear
box. Conduct the shear tests by
USBR 6540 Performing In Situ applying shear and normal load.
Direct Shear Testing of Rock

USBR 6515-09

3.2 Intact. For conducting a shear of joint aperture, and number

test on an intact specimen, first of joint sets
encapsulate its lower half and then its
upper half in separate molds. Conduct (2) Wall strength
the shear test by applying normal and
shear loads. (3) Block size

4. Significance and Use (4) Seepage

4.1 Shear Strength.-Shear strength (5) Boundary conditions

of rock is a critical parameter for the
design of rock slopes, dam (6) Magnitude of normal stress
foundations, tunnels, shafts, waste
repositories, and underground (7) Type of loading (static or
chambers for storage and other dynamic)
(8) Rate of shear displacement
4.2 Use.-Portable shear box field
shear tests are performed on weakly (9) Imbrication (natural
jointed rock specimens (i.e., rock arrangements of jointing
specimens that have joints that are
open or clay seams or other (10) Degree of interlocking
(11) Angle of asperities, size of
4.3 Site Coverage .-Conducting asperities: micro, macro,
laboratory or in situ shear strength meso, or mega
tests are expensive. When dam
foundation or slope stability designs (12) Normal stiffness of joints
require an extensive testing program,
a portable shear box can be used to (13) Velocity of applied shear
perform shear strength tests
inexpensively and rapidly over large (14) Magnitude of shear
test sites. Doing so provides displacement.
information on the shear strength
variations over an entire site and on In addition, a non-planar joint (see
site areas that would need more section 5.1) subjected to shear stress
detailed sampling and testing at a undergoes dilation. Therefore, the
later date. shear strength of a joint or a
discontinuity is not a precise value;
Note 3.- The shear strength of a joint the shear strength contains some
or discontinuity depends on the : degree of variance and uncertainty.

(1) Joint filling material, joint Note 4.-The components of shear

thickness, joint roughness, strength are cohesion and angle of
orientation and dip of joints, internal friction. Cohesion depends on
spacing of joints, persistence the scale effect of the sample,

USBR 6255-09

whereas the angle of internal friction 4.6 Representative Shear Strength.-

is independent of the scale effects. Conduct laboratory or in situ tests to
The influence of scale effect generally predict a representative shear strength
decreases with an increase in of the rock mass (USBR 6540 and
confining pressure. Scale effects do USBR 6545) rather than using the
not influence residual shear strength portables shear box shear test data..
(see section 5.4). Peak shear strength
(see section 5.3), peak shear 5. Description of Terms Specific to
displacement, and shear stiffness are This Designation
all scale-dependent parameters (see
figure 1). 5.1 Asperity.-Roughness of a
Note 5.-A moist specimen yields
lower shear strength than a dry 5.2 Discontinuities.-Joints, bedding
specimen because of low friction and planes, fractures, cracks, and other
cohesion and the inability of the geological features contained in the
moisture to migrate freely through the rock mass. A discontinuity may be
rock pores. During testing, entrapped planar (smooth) or non-planar
moisture causes a pore pressure build- (containing asperities). A non-planar
up that leads to low rock strength. discontinuity has an irregular, uneven,
or wavy structure or form. In a non-
4.4 Seismic Loading.-In situations planar discontinuity, an applied shear
of seismic loading, rock joints may load forces the sliding portion of the
slide back and forth. In those cases, joint or discontinuity to ride up or
properties of joints subjected to slide down the asperity, causing
reversible shear loads will be dilation or compression of the joint.
required. Portable shear box tests can Because of the contained asperity, the
provide such data. A typical shear test shear strength of a joint becomes
result on a joint under reversible shear dependent on the direction of shear
load is shown on figure 2. displacement.

Note 6.-Shear strength is lower 5.3 Dilatancy.-The apparent

under dynamic conditions than under increase in the initial volume of rock
static conditions. when it is about to fail under external
shear loading. Dilation is caused by
4.5 Other Influences.-Rock shear riding over the asperities.
strength is proportional to the or slope
stability design require an extensive 5.4 Peak Shear Stress.-The
testing overburden pressure. Also, the maximum shear stress along a sheared
shear strength of a rock is influenced surface attained during a shear test
by the size, shape, and moisture (see figure 3).
content of the specimen; the method
of testing; and the rate of shear

Designation USBR 6255-09

Figure 1. - Scale dependency of shear strength parameters.

Figure 2. - Shear stresses-shear displacements of a rock joint under reversible

shear load.
Designation USBR 6255-09

5.5 Residual Shear Stress.-During move 18 mm (¾ in) in either

early stages of a shear test, a rock direction. Figure 4 shows the shear
specimen has increasing shear strain box.
with increasing shear load. After the
peak shear stress is obtained, shear 6.2 Hydraulic Pumps.-Two
displacement continues to increase up manually operated, single speed,
to point A (see figure 3), but at a hydraulic pumps capable of exerting
somewhat slower rate than during pressures up to 70 MPa (10,000
pre-peak shear. The shear stress lbf/in2) each are used to activate the
obtained after attaining point A is rams to apply normal and shear
called “residual shear stress.” loads. The pump applying normal
load is equipped with a low-friction
5.6 Bond Breaking Shear Strength.- actuator that can maintain normal
The shear strength of rock specimens pressure within
with no open joint or discontinuity. ±1 %. The hydraulic pumps are
shown on figure 5.
5.7 Sliding Friction Shear
Strength.-The shear strength of a 6.3 Encapsulation Molds.-Two
specimen that contains an open joint clear plastic specimen encapsulation
or discontinuity. molds used to encapsulate the rock
specimens (one specimen per mold)
5.8 Other Terms.-See USBR 3910. and are shown on figure 6.

6. Apparatus 6.4 Pressure Gages.-Two hydraulic

pressure gages, used to measure the
6.1 Portable Direct Shear Box.-A normal and shear pressures, are
welded steel box with separable upper shown on figure 7. (The pressure
and lower halves. The upper half of gages may have a capacity of 7 to
the shear box includes a single acting, 70 MPa [1,000 to 10,000 lbf/in2] and
push-type, hydraulic ram installed an accuracy of 70 to 700 kPa [10 to
vertically and two wire ropes installed 100 lbf/in2).
horizontally. The lower half of the
shear box includes two single acting, 6.5 Displacement Measuring
push-type, hydraulic rams installed Device.-Reclamation uses dial gages
horizontally and one wire rope as normal and shear displacement
installed vertically. The rams have an measuring devices. Four vertically
effective area of 640 mm2 (0.994 in2) placed dial gages are used to measure
and a maximum load capacity of the normal displacement or joint
45 kN (5 tons). Ropes are 7-strand, closure and provide a check on
25- wire ropes (nominal strength specimen rotation. One dial gage,
120 kN [13.3 tons]). The vertical ram magnetically mounted and
and rope are used for applying normal horizontally placed, measures the
load, whereas the horizontal rams and shear displacement. The dial gages
ropes are used for applying shear load have a range of ± 25 mm (±1 in) (dial
in either direction. The shear box can gage is shown on figure 7).
USBR 6515-09

Figure 3.- Generalized shear stress and shear displacement curve.

Figure 4.- Shear box—portable direct shear device.

USBR 6255-09

Figure 5.- Hydraulic pump setup—portable direct shear device.

Figure 6.- Encapsulation mold—portable direct shear device.

USBR 6515-09

Figure 7.- Pressure gages and dial gage—portable direct shear device.

6.6 Miscellaneous Items.-Water 8. Test Specimens

cooled diamond saw, masonry saw,
bench saw, carpenter's contour gage 8.1 Preparation:
(for measuring joint surface
roughness), roughness chart, 8.1.1 Rock Specimen with a Single
planimeter, filler or modeling clay, Joint.- Samples containing the test
wire screens (see figure 7), calipers, horizon are collected using methods
spatula, encapsulating material, selected to minimize disturbance in
circular clamps, utility knife, towels, such a way as to retain natural
markers, plotting paper, camera, and moisture content. The specimen
other miscellaneous items or dimensions and the location of the
materials as required for conducting test horizon (i.e., joint or
the tests. discontinuity) within the block shall
allow, if possible, the mounting of the
7. Calibration and Standardization specimen without further trimming,
and shall provide sufficient clearance
7.1 Pressure Gages. -The pressure for adequate encapsulation. The test
gages are to be calibrated using plane should have a minimum area of
USBR 1040. 2500 mm2 (4 in2). The mechanical
integrity of the specimen may be
7.2 Dial Gages.-The dial gages are to preserved by binding tightly with
be calibrated using USBR 1007. wire or tape which is to be left in
position until immediately before
7.3 Calipers. -Calipers must meet testing. A portable saw may be used
requirements in USBR 1000. to carefully trim the specimen.

USBR 6255-09

Note 7.-To obtain meaningful Joint Roughness.-Using

parameters for designing, a carpenter's contour gage, measure
constructing, or maintaining the joint roughness in the direction of
Reclamation structures, the test the anticipated shear displacement.
specimens must represent the host Compare the measured joint
rock properties as far as practicable. roughness with the standard
roughness chart (see figure 8), and
8.2 Size and Shape.-The specimen determine the joint roughness
length is controlled by the dimensions coefficient.
of the mold (see note 8). The shape of
the specimen may be circular, 9.2.2 Encapsulation:
rectangular, square, or any other
shape that allows the cross sectional Encapsulate one-half
area to be easily determined. The least of a specimen at a time. To prevent
cross-sectional dimension of the the encapsulating material from
specimen shall be related to the size adhering to the mold, coat the inside
of the largest grain size in the rock by surface of the mold either with oil or
the ratio of at least 10:1. spray with a no-stick cooking
product. Complete the encapsulation
9. Procedure within the pot life (10 to 15 minutes)
of the encapsulating compound.
9.1 Moisture Content.-Determine
and report the moisture content of a The first half of the
companion rock specimen according encapsulation process is the most
to USBR 5300. critical because the shear horizon has
to be positioned at the correct planar
9.2 Test Specimen: attitude. Usually, this positioning can
be done by placing the specimen in
9.2.1 Measurements: contact with the bottom of the mold
and stabilizing or bracing it with Cross-Sectional Area.- modeling clay or by placing it on a
Determine and record the lateral wire screen platform.
dimensions of the specimen to the
nearest 0.025 mm (0.001 in) by Fill the bottom half of
averaging two measurements at right the mold with encapsulating material
angles to each other at about upper without interfering with the test
height, mid height, and lower height horizon. Allow the encapsulating
of the specimen. Calculate and record material to harden for about 20 to 30
the average cross-sectional area of the minutes. When a specimen is already
specimen. Alternatively, obtain the separated prior to encapsulation, place
cross-sectional area by planimetering the other half of the specimen in the
tracings of outlines of the test surface. correct position on the encapsulated
For intact rocks and filled joint half of the specimen. Place a layer of
specimens, the cross-sectional area is molding clay around the specimen
determined by averaging the end and on top of the surface of the dried
cross-sectional areas. encapsulation material to an elevation

USBR 6515-09

which completely isolates the test discontinuity. Carefully place the

horizon. upper shear box containing the
encapsulated upper half of the Position the upper half specimen over the lower half of the
of the mold over the lower half of the shear box without disturbing the test
mold. For specimens containing a horizon. For intact specimens, mount
discontinuity, take care to ensure that the encapsulated specimen into the
the two halves of the rock specimen shear box.
make a good match. Pour the
encapsulation material through the fill 9.4 Accessory Installation .-Install
hole opening of the top mold until the the four vertical dial gages for
level of encapsulating material is just measuring the vertical (normal)
below the hole opening. If any of the displacements. Install the magnet
fill hole volume is filled with mounted dial gage to measure
encapsulating material, a ridge forms horizontal (shear) displacements.
which interferes with proper seating Connect the hydraulic hoses and
of the casted specimen in the shear place the wire ropes (see figure 4) in
box. This ridge requires filing to the appropriate configuration.
remove it. Connect the hydraulic pump and
pressure gages. After the encapsulation
material is hardened, carefully 9.5 Testing:
remove the encapsulated specimen
from the mold, mark it with 9.5.1 Set the peak pressure
appropriate identification, and indicator on the shear pressure gage
transfer the lower half of the to zero.
encapsulated specimen to the lower
half of the portable shear box. 9.5.2 To ensure full contact of
shear surfaces of the rock specimen
Note 8.-A larger size specimen and of the two halves of the portable
requires trimming to match the shear box, apply an initial normal
encapsulation requirement in the load corresponding to a normal stress
mold. Also, the embedment length of of 0.69 MPa (10 lbf/in2).
the encapsulated rock specimen is
controlled by the dimensions of the 9.5.3 Take and record initial
mold. Exercise care to at least get an readings of pressures and
embedment length equal to the least displacements.
dimension of the test horizon. Limit
the maximum specimen size to about 9.5.4 Apply the designated
100-mm (4-in) diameter cores or normal test load by activating the
equivalent. normal pressure application hydraulic
pump, and then apply the shear load
9.3 Mounting into the Shear Box.- by activating the shear application
For specimens containing a hydraulic pump. The shear loads are
discontinuity, remove the modeling to be applied in increments so that at
clay and the wire meshes holding the least ten increments are obtained

Designation USBR 6255-09

Figure 8. - The standard roughness chart.

Designation USBR 6255-09

before rock specimen failure. Read disassemble the top half of the shear
and record the pressure and box.
displacement measuring devices at
each increment of shear pressure. 9.5.11 Carefully remove and
Also, read and record the peak shear separate both halves of the
pressure at failure (from the peak encapsulated test specimen from the
pressure indicator on the shear shear box.
pressure gauge). Record all readings
on the data sheet. 9.5.12 Weigh the top half of the
shear box along with the top half of
Note 9.-The normal pressure is to the encapsulated specimen (this
be held as constant as possible measurement gives the dead mass
throughout the test by pumping or exerted on the shear plane).
manually adjusting the two-way valve
on the hydraulic pump. The normal Note 11.-The number of rock
pressure is usually controlled by a specimens to be tested depends upon
pneumatic pressure maintainer. availability, but a minimum of three
specimens is preferred.
9.5.5 Maintain the normal
pressure on the rock specimen and 9.6 Photographing.-After
reduce the shear pressure to zero. completion of a test, take photographs
of the sheared surface.
9.5.6 Switch the hydraulic lines
from one shear ram (horizontally 10. Calculations
installed) to the other if the direction
of shearing needs to be reversed. 10.1 Area.- Calculate the average
cross-sectional area of the test
9.5.7 Repeat steps 9.5.1 through specimen from the cross-sectional
9.5.5 for the reversed shear loading, if dimensions (see section and
required. express the results to the nearest 0.01
mm2 (0.01 in2).
Note 10.-This step is to obtain
residual shear data at each normal 10.2. Stress.- Make the following
stress in reversed shear directions. calculations:
Normal Stress, σ = Pn/A, MPa (lbf/in2)
9.5.8 For a multi-stage test, Normal Stress, τ = Ps/A, MPa (lbf/in2)
increase the normal pressures to the
next designated increments. where:

9.5.9 Repeat steps 9.5.1 through Pn= normal load, kN (lbf)

9.5.4, and 9.5.8, if required (multi- Ps = shear load, kN (lbf)
stage test only). A = nominal or apparent cross
sectional area, mm2 (in2)
9.5.10 After completing the test,
depressurize the hydraulic rams and
USBR 6255-09

10.3 Roughness.-Compare the such as apparent weakness planes,

measured joint roughness (see section bedding planes, and schistosity; and and read the roughness from large inclusions or inhomogeneities, if
the standard roughness chart (see any.
figure 8).
11.1.3 General indication of the
10.4 Graphs.- Make the following moisture condition of the test
graphical plots: specimen at the time of testing, such
as saturated, received, or air dry. In
10.4.1 Plot curves as shown on some cases, the actual moisture
figure 9 to depict the relationships content may need to be reported as
between (a) shear stresses versus determined by procedure USBR
shear displacements, and (b) shear 5300.
stresses versus normal stresses.
11.1.4 The cross-sectional area
10.4.2 Plot curves as shown on of the rock specimen.
figure 10 to depict the relationships
between (a) changes in normal 11.1.5 The dial gage readings.
stresses versus joint aperture, and (b)
changes in joint aperture versus shear 11.1.6 The applied loads (normal
displacements. and shear).

10.4.3 Plot curves as shown on 11.1.7 Date of sampling and

figures 11, 12, 13, and 14 for different testing.
preselected normal stresses to show
the relationships between the (a) shear 11.1.8 The number of specimens
stresses versus shear displacements, tested.
and (b) normal displacements versus
shear displacements. 11.1.9 Type and location of
failure, including color photographs
11. Report of the specimen before and after the
11.1. Contents.- The report should
include the following: 11.2. Data Organization-The
standard reporting format used by
11.1.1 Source of sample Reclamation is appended as:
including project name, location, and,
if known, storage environment. The Table 1. - Test records.
location of the source of the rock
sample may be specified in terms of Table 2. - Final data.
borehole number and depth of sample
from collar of hole. Table 3. - Data summary.

11.1.2 Physical description of Figure 9. –

sample including rock type; location (a) Shear stress and shear
and orientation of discontinuities, displacement.

USBR 6515-09

(b) Shear stress and normal stress. caused by specimen variation as by

operator or laboratory testing
Figure 10. – variations. Because of the variability
(a) Change in normal stress and of rock, this test procedure has no
joint aperture. reference value.
(b) Change in joint aperture and
shear displacement.

Figure 11. –
(a) Shear stress and shear
(b) Normal displacement and shear

Figure 12. - At selected normal

stress, σL11 :
(a) Shear stress and shear
(b) Normal displacement
relationship and shear displacement

Figure 13. - At selected normal

stress, σL12 :
(a) Shear stress and shear
(b) Normal displacement
relationship and shear displacement.

Figure 14. - At selected normal

stress, σL13:
(a) Shear stress and shear
(b) Normal displacement
relationship and shear displacement.

11.3 Test Results.-The test results shall

be reported in accordance with
Reclamation designations USBR
3000 and USBR 9300.

12. Precision and Bias

The precision and bias for this

designation have not been
determined. Any variation observed
in the data is just as likely to be

Designation USBR 6255-09

Table 1.-Test records

Project: Feature: Spec Tested Date:

No: by:
Diameter: Area: Delta Delta NorDeadLoad:
Load: Disp:

Normal Shear Shear Micrometer Reading (Normal) Time

lbf lbf Disp Za Zb Zc Zd
in in in in in
USBR 6515-09

Table 2.-Final data

Spec No.:
Tested by:
Date tested:
Normal Shear Displacement
Stress Stress Shear Normal
(lbf/in2) (lbf/in2) (in) (in)
__________ __________ __________ __________

__________ __________ __________ __________

__________ __________ __________ __________

USBR 6255-09

Table 3.-Data Summary

Date: Time:
Data Summary:
Spec. No.:
Index No.:
Tested by:
Date tested:

Normal load Shear Displacement Normal Shear

(lbf) load Normal Shear Stress Stress
(lbf) (in) (in) (lbf/in2) (lbf/in2)
_____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____
_____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____
_____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____
_____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____
_____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____


Sliding Friction Results

S= + (N)
Cohesion = lbf/in2
PHI= degrees COR COEF =

USBR 6515-09

Figure 9. –
(a) Shear stress and shear displacement.
(b) Shear stress and normal stress.

USBR 6255-09

Figure 10. –
(a) Change in normal stress and joint aperture.
(b) Change in joint aperture and shear displacement.

USBR 6515-09

Figure 11. –
(a) Shear stress and shear displacement.
(b) Normal displacement and shear displacement.

USBR 6255-09

Figure 12. - At selected normal stress, σL11 :

(a) Shear stress and shear displacement
(b) Normal displacement relationship and shear displacement

USBR 6515-09

Figure 13. - At selected normal stress, σL12 :

(a) Shear stress and shear displacement
(b) Normal displacement relationship and shear displacement.

USBR 6255-09

Figure 14. - At selected normal stress, σL13:

(a) Shear stress and shear displacement.
(b) Normal displacement relationship and shear displacement.