Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Civil and Environmental Engineering

Major Professor

Austin G. Mullins

Co-Major Professor

Abla Zayed


Bond Strength, Mineral Slurry, Polymer Slurry, Pullout Testing, Viscosity


Drilled shafts are cast-in-place concrete, deep foundation elements that require high levels of quality control to ensure the borehole does not become unstable either during excavation or during concreting. Bentonite slurry is a popular choice among state DOT officials nationwide to maintain borehole stability as it has a long history with reasonable load carrying performance. However, specifications developed to replicate successful shaft construction are largely based on empirical data. Further, as slurry construction is a blind process, the final as-built shaft is rarely visually inspected and much of the perceived concrete flow and slurry interaction with rebar and the soil interface are largely unverified.

This thesis presents the wide range of nationwide specifications for slurry viscosities (upper and lower) and notes that in only one case out of a hundred (50 states with an upper and lower viscosity limit) is there a rational basis for setting the limit. To this end, the objective of this thesis was to provide compelling evidence to support or dispute present upper viscosity limits. The study was part of a larger scope to show the effects of high viscosity slurry on concrete / soil interface and rebar bond. However, this thesis addresses only the latter via large scale testing to show concrete flow patterns, the build-up of bentonite slurry on rebar, and the degradation of rebar pull-out capacity as a function of bentonite slurry viscosity.

Pull-out test results from 126 specimens, comprised of No. 8 rebar embedded in 42in diameter shafts, showed that rebar bond degraded as much as 70%#37; and more when in the presence of bentonite slurry that conformed to most state viscosity specifications (40 to 90 sec/qt). Visual inspection which is rarely possible on drilled shafts showed convincingly that the

concrete that flowed through the cage to form the cover concrete does not fully encapsulate the rebar. In most cases a void/crease was formed reflecting the cage grid and which would provide a pathway from the soil pore water directly to the reinforcing steel.

While present specifications nationwide dictate bentonite slurry ranges from a minimum of 28 to a maximum of 60 sec/qt, the study findings indicate that only viscosity levels of 30 sec/qt and below are reasonable from both a bond and durability stand point. As pure water has a viscosity of 26 sec/qt, this leaves only a very slight window of acceptability which is unlikely to provide sufficient lateral borehole stability.

Included in

Engineering Commons