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Mortar Testing: Types and Methods

July 19, 2023 jinchen 0 Comments

Mortar is a fundamental component of construction, and its performance is critical for the durability and safety of buildings and infrastructure. Mortar testing plays a crucial role in evaluating the properties and characteristics of mortar mixes, ensuring that they meet specific performance criteria. This article explores the significance of mortar testing in construction projects, highlighting its role in ensuring the quality and longevity of structures.

The Importance of Mortar Testing

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Quality Assurance

Mortar testing is essential for quality assurance in construction.

By conducting regular tests on mortar samples, construction professionals can verify the consistency and quality of the mortar mix, ensuring that it meets the required standards and specifications.

Strength Assessment

Compressive strength testing is crucial for evaluating the load-bearing capacity and structural integrity of the mortar.

Knowing the compressive strength helps determine whether the mortar is suitable for its intended load-bearing applications.

Consistency Verification

Testing helps confirm that the mortar mix has been properly proportioned and mixed according to the manufacturer’s recommendations or project specifications.

Consistent mixing ensures uniformity in the mortar’s properties and performance.

Durability Assessment

Mortar testing assesses the durability of the mortar, including its resistance to weathering, freeze-thaw cycles, chemical exposure, and other environmental factors.

This information helps select the appropriate mortar for specific exposure conditions.

Adhesion and Bond Strength

Adhesion and bond strength testing evaluates the mortar’s ability to adhere to different substrates and materials.

This is crucial for ensuring strong and reliable bonds between masonry units, tiles, and other construction elements.

Setting and Curing Time

Testing helps determine the setting and curing time of the mortar, which is important for project scheduling and ensuring that construction activities proceed as planned.

Compliance with Standards

Mortar testing ensures that the mortar meets the requirements of relevant industry standards, building codes, and regulations.

Compliance with these standards is essential for safe and reliable construction.

Performance Optimization

Testing allows for the optimization of mortar mixes by evaluating the effects of various additives, admixtures, or modifications on the mortar’s properties.

This helps achieve desired performance characteristics.


In case of issues or failures in construction, mortar testing can help identify the root cause and determine corrective actions to prevent recurrence.

Mortar testing plays a critical role in guaranteeing the quality, strength, and durability of mortar used in construction projects. It allows construction professionals to make informed decisions, ensure compliance with standards, and deliver successful and long-lasting structures.

Mortar Mix Design

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Designing different types of mortar mixes for specific applications involves carefully selecting and proportioning materials to achieve the desired properties and performance characteristics. The role of materials such as cement, sand, and admixtures in the mix design process is crucial for determining the mortar’s strength, workability, durability, and other essential qualities. Here’s how each material contributes to the mixed design process:


Cement is the binder in mortar and plays a vital role in providing strength and cohesion to the mix. The type of cement used (e.g., Portland cement, blended cement) influences the mortar’s properties and performance.

The amount of cement in the mix affects the mortar’s compressive strength and overall durability. Higher cement content generally results in higher strength but can lead to reduced workability.


Sand is the fine aggregate in mortar and provides bulk to the mix. The type of sand (e.g., river sand, crushed sand) and its grading impact the mortar’s workability and water demand.

Well-graded sand with a proper particle size distribution ensures good packing and reduces voids, improving the mortar’s strength and cohesion.


Water is essential for the hydration of cement, forming the cement paste that binds the aggregates together. The amount of water significantly affects the workability and strength of the mortar.

The water-cement ratio is a critical factor in the mix design. Lower water-cement ratios result in higher strength but can reduce workability, making proper proportioning crucial to achieving the desired balance.


Admixtures are chemical additives that can modify the properties of mortar. They can improve workability, retard or accelerate setting time, enhance durability, and impart specific characteristics to the mortar.

Plasticizers or water reducers help increase workability without increasing the water content. Retarders slow down the setting time, allowing more extended workability. Accelerators speed up the setting time for time-sensitive projects.

Supplementary Cementitious Materials (SCMs)

SCMs, such as fly ash, silica fume, or slag, can be used in combination with cement to improve specific properties, such as durability, workability, and resistance to chemical attack.

SCMs can partially replace cement, reducing the overall cement content while maintaining or even enhancing the mortar’s performance.

By understanding the roles of cement, sand, water, admixtures, and supplementary materials, construction professionals can optimize mortar mix designs for different applications. The mixed design process involves conducting laboratory tests, considering project requirements, and adjusting the proportions of materials to achieve the desired performance characteristics, strength, and durability in the mortar for a specific construction application.

Compressive Strength

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The compressive strength testing of mortar samples is a crucial process to evaluate the ability of the mortar to withstand axial loads or pressure without failure. This test helps assess the load-bearing capacity and structural integrity of the mortar, making it highly relevant to construction applications. The process of compressive strength testing involves the following steps:

Sample Preparation

Prepare representative mortar samples using the same mix of proportions and materials used in the construction project. Ensure the samples are properly compacted in molds to achieve uniformity.


Cure the samples under controlled conditions to simulate the actual curing environment of the construction site. Common curing methods include moist curing or immersion in water for a specific period.

Sample Conditioning

Allow the cured samples to condition at room temperature for a designated time to stabilize before testing. The conditioning period is usually 24 hours to 28 days, depending on the project specifications.

Testing Apparatus

Use a compression testing machine to conduct the test. The machine consists of a hydraulic or mechanical loading system and a digital display to record the applied load.

Test Procedure

Place the conditioned mortar sample between the compression plates of the testing machine.

Align the sample to ensure it is vertically centered and the load is applied uniformly.

Gradually increase the load until the sample fails, noting the maximum load applied just before failure.


Calculate the compressive strength of the mortar sample by dividing the maximum load at failure by the cross-sectional area of the sample.

The relevance of compressive strength testing to construction applications is significant for the following reasons:

Structural Integrity: Compressive strength testing ensures that the mortar used in load-bearing elements, such as walls, columns, and foundations, possesses the necessary strength to support the imposed loads and maintain structural integrity.

Quality Control: The testing process helps ensure that the mortar used in construction meets the required quality standards and project specifications, preventing potential failures or safety hazards.

Design Verification: Compressive strength testing validates the design assumptions and load-bearing capacities used in the structural design process, providing confidence in the overall safety and performance of the structure.

Material Optimization: The test results assist in optimizing mortar mix designs by evaluating the effects of different materials, proportions, or admixtures on the mortar’s strength, leading to more efficient and cost-effective construction.

Compliance with Standards: Compressive strength testing ensures compliance with industry standards, local building codes, and regulatory requirements, ensuring that the construction meets the necessary safety and quality criteria.


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The ease of mortar mixing, pouring, and finishing has a significant impact on construction efficiency. When mortar exhibits good workability, it becomes easier for construction workers to handle and manipulate during the construction process. This, in turn, improves the overall efficiency of the construction project. Here’s how the test method for mortar workability is typically conducted:

Test Apparatus

Flow table: A flow table is a flat, rigid surface with a smooth, level top. It is typically made of steel and has a diameter of approximately 700 mm.

Flow mold: A flow mold is a cylindrical container with a standard diameter and height, typically 100 mm in diameter and 50 mm in height.

Stopwatch or timer.

Sample Preparation

Prepare a representative sample of mortar using the desired mix of proportions and materials.

Ensure that the sample is properly mixed and reaches a uniform consistency.

Test Procedure

Place the flow mold on the flow table.

Fill the flow mold with the mortar sample, ensuring it is filled without any gaps or voids.

Strike off the excess mortar from the top of the flow mold using a straight-edge tool.

Lift the flow mold vertically in one swift motion, allowing the mortar to flow freely onto the flow table.


Measure the diameter of the mortar spread on the flow table in both the initial and final states.

Use a ruler or calipers to measure the average diameter of the mortar spread.

Record the measurement and calculate the flow value by subtracting the initial diameter from the final diameter.

The test method for mortar workability, commonly known as the flow table test or flow cone test, indicates the mortar’s ability to flow and spread. The measured flow value represents the workability or consistency of the mortar, where a higher flow value indicates better workability and ease of handling.

The relevance of the test method for mortar workability to construction efficiency is as follows:

Ease of Mixing: Mortar with good workability mixes easily, requiring less effort and time during the mixing process. This enhances the efficiency of mortar preparation.

Smooth Pouring: Mortar with good workability flows smoothly and consistently, allowing for easier and more precise pouring into formwork or masonry units. This reduces the likelihood of blockages, voids, or uneven distribution.

Efficient Finishing: Mortar that is easy to work with facilitates efficient finishing operations, such as troweling, leveling, and achieving the desired surface textures. This leads to faster and more uniform finishing, improving construction efficiency.

Reduced Labor and Time: When mortar has good workability, it requires less physical exertion and adjustment by workers, resulting in reduced labor time and increased productivity.

Improved Construction Progress: With easier mortar handling and application, construction projects can progress at a faster pace, leading to improved overall construction efficiency and timely project completion.

By assessing the workability of mortar through the test method, construction professionals can select mortars with optimal workability characteristics for specific construction applications. This helps streamline construction processes, reduce potential delays, and enhance overall project efficiency.

Water Absorption

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The water absorption capacity of mortar can be tested using the following procedure:

Sample Preparation

Prepare representative mortar samples using the desired mix proportions and materials.

Ensure that the mortar samples are properly mixed and reach a uniform consistency.

Drying of Specimens

Allow the mortar samples to dry for a specific period in a controlled environment. This ensures that the samples are in a completely dry state before conducting the test.

Weighing of Dry Specimens

Weigh each dried mortar sample individually using a precise weighing scale. Record the dry weight of each specimen.

Saturation of Specimens

Submerge each dried mortar sample in water for a specified period. The duration of saturation may vary depending on the testing standard or project requirements. Commonly, specimens are submerged for 24 hours.

Removing Excess Surface Water

After the saturation period, remove the specimens from the water and gently tap them to remove any excess surface water.

Weighing of Saturated Specimens

Weigh each saturated mortar sample individually using the same weighing scale. Record the saturated weight of each specimen.


Calculate the water absorption capacity of the mortar samples using the following formula:

Water Absorption Capacity (%) = [(Saturated Weight – Dry Weight) / Dry Weight] x 100

The result will be expressed as a percentage, representing the percentage increase in weight due to water absorption.


Record the results of the water absorption test for each mortar sample and maintain proper documentation for future reference.

The water absorption capacity test helps determine the ability of the mortar to absorb water, which is an essential property to evaluate its durability and resistance to environmental conditions. High water absorption may lead to reduced strength, increased vulnerability to freeze-thaw damage, and diminished long-term performance. Therefore, knowing the water absorption capacity of mortar is crucial in selecting the most suitable mortar for specific construction applications, such as exterior masonry, concrete repairs, or situations with exposure to moisture and adverse weather conditions.

Adhesion Strength

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Testing the bond strength of mortar can be done using a test method called the “bond strength test” or “pull-off test.” This test assesses the adhesive strength between the mortar and the substrate it is bonded to. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to conduct the bond strength test:

Surface Preparation

Prepare the substrate surface by cleaning it thoroughly to remove any dust, dirt, grease, or loose particles. The surface should be dry and free from contaminants.

Mortar Application

Apply a thin layer of mortar to the substrate using a trowel or other suitable application method. Ensure the mortar is evenly and uniformly applied.

Embedment of Test Discs or Pins

While the mortar is still fresh, embed steel test discs or pins into the mortar. These discs or pins will act as the bond test interface.

Press the discs or pins firmly into the mortar to ensure good contact and proper bonding.

Curing of Mortar

Allow the mortar to cure and attain its required strength according to the specified curing time. This period is usually 28 days for standard mortar.

Test Setup

Set up the testing equipment, which typically includes a hydraulic or mechanical pull-off testing machine. The machine applies a pulling force to the test disc or pin.

Test Execution

Attach the testing machine’s pull-off head to the test disc or pin and gradually apply a tensile force in the direction perpendicular to the substrate.

Continue applying the force until the bond between the mortar and the substrate fails, resulting in the detachment of the test disc or pin.

Measurement and Calculation

Measure the maximum force applied before the bond failure occurs. This force is called the “pull-off force.”

Calculate the bond strength by dividing the pull-off force by the surface area of the test disc or pin in contact with the mortar.


Record the test results, including the pull-off force and bond strength, for each test sample.

Report the bond strength in units of force per unit area, such as MPa (megapascals) or psi (pounds per square inch).

Setting Time

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The test method for determining the setting time of mortar is typically carried out using the Vicat apparatus. The Vicat apparatus measures the time it takes for the mortar to reach specific consistency and setting states. The test method is based on ASTM C191 and EN 196-3 standards. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to conduct the setting time test for mortar using the Vicat apparatus:

Sample Preparation

Prepare the mortar samples using the desired mix proportions and materials. Ensure that the samples are thoroughly mixed to achieve a uniform consistency.

Vicat Apparatus Setup

Set up the Vicat apparatus, which consists of a Vicat mold, a Vicat plunger, and a movable rod or frame with a needle attachment. The needle should be 10 ± 0.1 mm in diameter and 50 ± 1 mm in length.

Filling the Vicat Mold

Fill the Vicat mold with the prepared mortar sample, making sure it is uniformly filled without any air voids.

Initial Setting Time Test

Lower the Vicat plunger gently onto the surface of the mortar in the mold until it touches the surface.

Release the plunger and record the time when it no longer makes an impression or indentation in the mortar. This is the “initial setting time.”

Final Setting Time Test

After recording the initial setting time, remove the Vicat mold from the apparatus and wait for the mortar to continue setting.

Repeat the plunger test periodically until the plunger makes no impression on the mortar surface. The time at which this occurs is the “final setting time.”


Calculate the setting time by determining the time difference between the initial setting time and the final setting time.


Record the test results, including the initial and final setting times, for each mortar sample.

The setting time test helps construction professionals in planning their work sequence and timing. It is particularly important in projects where precise timing is necessary, such as large-scale concrete placements, tile installations, or concrete repairs. Additionally, the test aids in evaluating the effects of various additives or admixtures on the mortar’s setting characteristics and assists in optimizing mix designs for specific construction requirements.

Mortar Test Standards

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Adherence to mortar testing standards is of utmost importance in quality assurance for several reasons:

Consistency and Reproducibility

Following standardized testing methods ensures that mortar tests are conducted consistently across different laboratories and construction projects.

This enhances the reproducibility of test results and allows for meaningful comparisons between different mortar mixes and batches.

Validity of Results

Standardized testing methods are well-established and validated, ensuring that the test results accurately reflect the properties and performance of the mortar being tested.

Reliable and valid results are crucial in making informed decisions about mortar selection and application.

Quality Control

By adhering to testing standards, manufacturers, contractors, and construction professionals can ensure that the mortar used in their projects meets specific quality requirements.

This helps maintain consistent quality levels and minimizes the risk of using substandard or inappropriate mortar.

Safety and Durability

Properly tested and quality-assured mortar is essential for the safety and durability of structures.

Mortar with adequate strength, workability, and other desired properties contributes to the long-term performance and structural integrity of buildings.

Troubleshooting and Problem Identification

If issues arise during construction or after completion, adherence to testing standards allows for effective troubleshooting and problem identification.

Testing can help pinpoint the cause of any defects or failures, leading to appropriate remediation.

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Mortar testing is an integral part of the construction process, guaranteeing the quality, durability, and safety of structures. By evaluating key properties like compressive strength, workability, and adhesion strength, construction professionals can make informed decisions and select the most suitable mortar mixes for their projects. Adherence to mortar test standards ensures consistency and reliability in the testing process, contributing to the success of construction endeavors.

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