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Concrete Penetrometers

Concrete Penetrometer

A concrete penetrometer is a device used in concrete testing to measure the consistency or stiffness of fresh concrete. It is a handheld stainless steel tool that features a needle or probe that is inserted into the concrete surface, allowing for the determination of the penetration resistance of the material. Concrete penetrometers and soil penetrometers are widely used in various applications, including quality control, mix design optimization, unconfined compressive strength of soil, and construction monitoring.

The operation of a concrete penetrometer involves pressing the needle or probe against the concrete surface until it reaches a depth of penetration resistance. The depth of penetration is then measured, and the resistance force required to achieve that depth is recorded. The resulting value is referred to as the penetration resistance or penetration index and is often used as an indicator of the workability or consistency of the concrete mixture and shear strength.

Concrete penetrometers are particularly useful in assessing the consistency of fresh concrete, including slump, flow, and spread. They are also useful in evaluating the effectiveness of admixtures or other additives that affect the rheological properties of the concrete. Additionally, concrete penetrometers are used in determining the early-age strength of concrete, providing a means of monitoring the curing process and predicting the long-term shear strength of the material.

The advantages of using a concrete penetrometer in concrete testing include its portability, ease of use, and ability to provide quick results. It allows for on-site testing, which is especially important in construction projects where concrete properties can vary depending on factors such as temperature, humidity, and mixing conditions. Furthermore, concrete penetrometers are non-destructive and do not damage the concrete surface, allowing for repeated measurements on the same location.

In summary, a concrete penetrometer is a valuable tool in concrete testing, allowing for the assessment of the consistency, shear strength, and rheological properties of fresh concrete. Its versatility and ease of use make it a popular choice in various applications, providing a means of monitoring and optimizing concrete quality and performance. It is also used for testing cohesive soils.

Certified MTP recommends different types and styles of  penetrometers for density tests and soil penetrometers are used for unconfined compressive strength of cohesive soils:

Soil Pocket Penetrometer

Soil Pocket Penetrometer, Chrome-Plated with Engraved Scale

AMS 59032 Pocket Penetrometer

Dial Geotester Pocket Penetrometer Kit

Acme Mortar Penetrometer, Bench-Top

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Overview of Penetrometers Used for Concrete Testing


Penetrometers, originally designed for assessing soil quality and compaction, have been adapted for various other materials, including concrete. These tools play a crucial role in ensuring the quality and durability of concrete structures through rigorous testing protocols. This comprehensive overview will delve into the use of penetrometers in concrete testing, exploring their design, functionality, and application in field and laboratory settings, while also addressing the importance of parameters such as unconfined compressive strength and shear strength.

Principles of Concrete Penetrometers

Concrete penetrometers are designed to test the setting properties of freshly mixed concrete. The test involves measuring the resistance of concrete to penetration by a cone or needle, which provides a direct correlation to the concrete’s potential unconfined compressive strength and structural integrity. The basic components of a concrete penetrometer include a stainless steel plunger, stainless steel needle or stainless steel cone tip, and a mechanism to measure the depth and force of penetration, usually calibrated in pounds per square inch.

Laboratory and Field Testing

In laboratory settings, penetrometers and soil penetrometers are used to perform controlled tests that determine the initial and final set times of concrete and cohesive soils. These tests are critical for understanding how quickly concrete starts to harden and when it reaches sufficient shear strength to support loads. Laboratory testing ensures that each batch of concrete meets specific standards and can predict how it will perform in real-world applications such as for food products.

For field applications, hand penetrometers and soil penetrometers provide on-site assessments of concrete’s setting characteristics and cohesive soils. These portable devices often come with a carrying case and are equipped with stainless steel needles or cones that penetrate the concrete sample to measure its resistance. This capability is essential for immediate decision-making on construction sites, helping to determine optimal times for form removal or further construction activities with unconfined compressive strength of cohesive soils.

Design and Operation

Concrete penetrometers vary in design, but most consist of a body that houses a spring-loaded mechanism to drive the cone or needle into the concrete. The depth of penetration is then read off a scale, which provides a measure of the concrete's consistency and setting rate. The dimensions and weight of the hand penetrometer are designed to meet industry standards, ensuring accuracy and ease of use in both laboratory and field environments such as for food products.

The plunger and needle or cone must be robust and durable, as they directly contact the highly abrasive concrete. Part numbers are typically assigned to each model to specify the type and size, helping users select the right penetrometer for their testing needs. Accessories may include various sizes of needles and cones, additional weights for testing different concrete mixes, and specially designed plungers.

Measurement Techniques

Using a concrete penetrometer involves placing the device's tip on the surface of the concrete sample and releasing the mechanism that drives the needle into the material. The resistance to penetration is measured and recorded. These readings are crucial for creating a report that documents the concrete’s setting characteristics over time. Multiple tests may be performed to ensure comprehensive data collection.

Importance in Quality Control

The data obtained from penetrometer tests are vital for quality control in concrete production and construction. They help ensure that each batch of concrete poured has the appropriate characteristics for its intended use, adhering to safety and performance standards. Independent tests conducted separately in both lab and field settings provide a reliable basis for evaluating the concrete’s quality.

Compliance with Standards

Penetrometers used in concrete testing must comply with specific standards, such as those set by OSHA, to ensure safety in operation. Additionally, industry guidelines often dictate the methodology for testing concrete, ensuring that results are consistent and reliable. These standards help in maintaining uniformity in testing procedures and in the interpretation of results across different projects and laboratories.

Challenges and Considerations

While concrete penetrometers are invaluable tools, they come with challenges. The accuracy of measurements can be affected by the user's technique, the concrete's temperature, and environmental conditions. Therefore, training and experience are crucial for obtaining reliable results. Regular calibration and maintenance of the penetrometer are also essential to ensure it remains accurate over time.


Penetrometers for concrete testing are essential tools that provide crucial data on the setting properties and potential strength of concrete. Whether used in a laboratory to ensure compliance with mix specifications or in the field to assess setting times, these devices play a vital role in the construction industry. By facilitating precise and timely measurements, penetrometers and soil penetrometers help ensure that concrete structures are built to last, maintaining safety and integrity throughout their lifespan.