Shear Vane Test: Measuring Soil Strength In-Situ

The shear vane test is a simple, in-situ field test used to assess the undrained shear strength of cohesive soils like clays, silts, and some soft clays. It provides a quick and inexpensive way to evaluate soil strength for various applications, including:

  • Foundation design: Estimating bearing capacity and potential settlement.
  • Slope stability analysis: Assessing the risk of landslides or slope failures.
  • Excavation planning: Determining safe excavation depths and shoring requirements.
  • Quality control: Verifying the consistency of compacted soils.


The test primarily utilizes a shear vane apparatus, consisting of a thin-walled cylinder (vane) attached to a rod and a torque measuring device. The vane size varies depending on soil conditions and desired test depth.


  1. Insertion: The vane is pushed into the soil at the desired depth with minimal disturbance.
  2. Rotation: The rod is rotated at a constant rate, applying a torsional force on the vane.
  3. Torque Measurement: The torque required to shear the soil around the vane is measured and recorded.
  4. Calculation: The undrained shear strength (Su) is calculated using the equation: Su = T / (π * vane radius^2 * vane height), where T is the measured torque.


  • Simple and portable: Requires minimal equipment and can be performed quickly.
  • Minimal soil disturbance: Minimizes alteration of soil properties compared to other methods.
  • Cost-effective: Requires simple and readily available equipment.
  • Versatile: Applicable to various soil types and depths.


  • Undrained conditions: Only measures undrained shear strength, not drained strength.
  • Limited depth: Applicable only to shallow depths due to limitations in torque application.
  • Anisotropy sensitivity: May not accurately reflect strength in layered or anisotropic soils.
  • Operator variability: Requires skilled operators to ensure consistent results.


Shear vane tests are widely used in various geotechnical engineering projects. They are particularly valuable for preliminary assessments, quick evaluations, and quality control. While limitations exist, the test provides valuable insights into soil behavior and aids in informed decision-making.

Additional Notes:

  • Variations of the test exist, such as the motorized shear vane test and the field vane test.
  • Interpretation of results requires consideration of soil type, moisture content, and other factors.
  • It is recommended to consult with a qualified geotechnical engineer for interpretation and application of shear vane test results in critical engineering projects.

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