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3 ways to measure

mortar consistency
How to maintain quality control from batch to batch


1. Place the mold at the center of

the flow tabletop.

2. Remove the mold after filling it

with mortar.

3. Measure the diameter of the

pancake that results after the
table is dropped 12 inch 25 times
in 15 seconds.

method, the Conway penetration procedure.

removes the mold and immediately

drops the flow table a height of 12 inch
25 times in 15 seconds. Then the technician measures the average diameter
of the mortar pancake that results.
The flow is the increase in average
base diameter expressed as a percentage of the original base diameter (the
diameter of the mold, which by specification is 4 inches).
If mortar is specified using the property specifications of ASTM C 270,
Standard Specification for Mortar for
Unit Masonry, it must meet requirements for compressive strength, water
retention, and air content. To perform
these tests, the laboratory mortar by
specification must have a water content to yield a flow of 110% 5%. So,
before the lab mortar is tested for
strength, water retention, or air content, its flow must first be measured

asonry mortar used in the

field usually is mixed to a
consistency that would cause
the average concrete technician to reject it for being too wet. But masonry
mortar must be more fluid. It is placed
between masonry units that quickly
suck out this excess water. In fact, the
more absorptive the units, the wetter
the mortar must be (within reason).
How do you measure exactly how
wet the mortar is? How do you check
the consistency of the mortar to make
sure its the same from batch to batch?
The American Society for Testing
and Materials (ASTM) has developed
two standard methods for measuring
the consistency of unhardened mortar:
the flow table procedure (ASTM C
109) and the cone penetration procedure (ASTM C 780). ASTM is now
considering standardizing a third

The flow table procedure

The flow table procedure for measuring mortar consistency is intended
for laboratory use only. The test procedure is described in ASTM C 109,
Standard Test Method for Compressive Strength of Hydraulic Cement
Mortars. The flow table itself is described in ASTM C 230, Standard
Specification for Flow Table for Use
in Tests of Hydraulic Cement.
To perform the test, the lab technician places a standard bronze or brass
mold at the center of the flow tabletop. He fills the mold in two layers,
tamping each layer 20 times with a
tamper. With a trowel, he cuts off the
mortar flush with the top of the mold.
One minute after mixing the mortar, he

with the flow table. A mortar with a

flow of 110% approximates the drier
mortar that might be found in a wall
soon after being laid.
The flow table apparatus must be
secured to a 25- to 30-inch-high concrete pedestal that is leveled on the
floor. Newly purchased equipment can
cost more than $2,000 and weigh at
least 350 pounds.


The cone penetration procedure

The consistency of mortar in the
field can be measured using the cone
penetration procedure. This test also
can be used to determine the board life
of the mortar and in quality control to
monitor the batch-to-batch uniformity
of the mortar.
The cone penetration procedure is
described in ASTM C 780, Standard
Method for Preconstruction and Construction Evaluation of Mortars for
Plain and Reinforced Unit Masonry.
Instead of the flow table, this test uses
a cone penetrometer, which is a modified version of the Vicat apparatus
used in ASTM C 187 to measure the
consistency of hydraulic cement.
To perform the test, the field technician fills a standard 400-milliliter metal cylindrical container with mortar.
He fills the container in three layers
of equal volume, spading each layer
20 times with a spatula. After this is
done, he taps the side of the container
to remove any entrapped air and cuts
the mortar off flush with the top of the
container. Then the technician slides
the container underneath the plunger
of the penetrometer so the plunger
rests on the edge of the container. He
tightens the set screw just enough to
hold the plunger and moves the indicator to the zero point on the scale. After centering the container under the
plunger, he releases the plunger with
a quick definite turn of the screw.
When the plunger comes to rest or at
the end of 30 seconds, he reads the
depth of penetration in millimeters on
the scale. The wetter or more plastic
the mortar, the deeper the cone penetrates.
Although erratic cone penetration
readings indicate poor control during
batching and mixing, they do not indicate if the cement, sand, or water additions are improper. Other tests must
be performed to identify the batching
or mixing procedure that is causing
the problem.

1. Fill a standard 400-ml

container with three layers
of mortar, spading each
layer with a spatula.

4. Center the full container under the

plunger of the penetrometer.

2. Tap the sides of the

container to remove
entrapped air.

3. Cut the mortar off flush

with the top of the

5. Turn the set screw to drop the

plunger, then read the depth of
penetration on the scale.


The cone penetration test is rather

simple. It uses a small amount of mortar. And the equipment is portable and
costs less than $500. Yet some technicians think that, at times and with certain mortars, the results of cone penetration tests are not as reliable as those
of tests done in the laboratory on a
flow table.

The Conway penetration procedure

1. Fill a 16-inch-diameter ring with

2. Remove the ring after leveling

off the mortar.

3. Set a 1-inch-thick solid metal

disk on the mortar and push it into
the mortar with a hand
penetrometer calibrated for

4. Read the force required to push

in the disk on the penetrometers
scale. This force is a relative
measure of the mortars

ASTM is now studying another

method of measuring mortar consistency as an alternative to the C 780 test
method. Called the Conway penetration procedure, this method was first
recommended by Tim Conway of Santee Cement Company. If the Conway
method is adopted either it or the cone
penetrometer may be used.
The Conway test uses a concrete
penetrometer that is available commercially but recalibrated for mortar.
To perform the test, the technician
places a 16-inch-diameter ring on the
masons mortar board and fills it with
mortar. He levels off the mortar flush
with the top of the ring then removes
the ring. The technician next sets a
specified 234-inch-diameter, 1-inchthick solid metal disk on top of the
mortar. Then he pushes the disk into
the mortar with the hand penetrometer
and reads the force required to do this
on the penetrometers scale. This is
done at three different locations in the
mortar sample.
The force read on the penetrometer
scale is a relative measure of the mortars consistency. The more force
thats required to push the disk into the
mortar, the stiffer the mortar. Because
of this, the technician also can use the
test to measure board life. As the mortar stiffens, the force required to push
in the disk increases. The technician
can perform the test on the same mortar every 15 minutes and plot the readings on a line graph to determine the
rate of stiffening.
The Conway test also may be performed on mortar as it sits inside a
mixer, as long as the mixer is stopped.
The equipment costs about $200, but
a large mortar sample is needed, making a large mixer necessary.

Copyright 1988, The Aberdeen Group
All rights reserved