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This report is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-04-150
Date: July 2006

Petrographic Methods of Examining Hardened Concrete: A Petrographic Manual

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Petrographic Methods of Examining Hardened Concrete: A Petrographic Manual was originally published in 1992 by the Virginia Transportation Research Council (VTRC) as Report VTRC-92-R14. Authored by Hollis N. Walker, it was the culmination of a quarter century of work by her in concrete petrography at the VTRC.

This edition, revised by D. Stephen Lane, senior research scientist at the VTRC, builds on the original work. It has been revised and updated to reflect recent advances in techniques and work in concrete petrography. Major additions to the manual include a new chapter (chapter 14, written by Paul E. Stutzman, physical scientist, National Institute of Standards and Technology) on the use of the scanning electron microscope to examine concrete and concretemaking materials, and additional information on the identification and classification of rocks and minerals in aggregates (appendix D). Chapter 10, Alkali-Aggregate Reactions, was reorganized to outline the process one would follow to investigate a case of concrete deterioration and illustrate the features that provide evidence of alkali-silica or alkali-carbonate reactions. It is hoped that the manual will be of great use both to those entering the field of concrete petrography and to the experienced petrographer.

This edition is an example of the continuing cooperation in infrastructure research and development between State and Federal agencies.

The following quotation from K. Mather (1966), serves as a mission statement for concrete petrographers:

The best petrographic examination is the one that finds the right questions and answers them with maximum economy in minimum time, with a demonstration clear to all concerned that the right questions were answered with all necessary and no superfluous detail. In practice, the approach to the ideal varies depending on the problem, the skill with which the questions are asked, and the skill of the petrographer. One measure of the petrographer’s skill is knowing when to stop, either because the problem is adequately solved, or, in some cases, because it has been shown to be insoluble under the circumstances.

Katherine Mather served as chair of the American Society for Testing and Materials Subcommittee on Petrography of Concrete and Aggregates for many years. She was an expert in the practice and use of petrography, contributed to many publications, and participated actively in cement and concrete research carried on by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Gary L. Henderson, Director
Office of Infrastructure Research
and Development


This document is disseminated under the sponsorship of the U.S. Department of Transportation in the interest of information exchange. The U.S. Government assumes no liability for its contents or use thereof. This report does not constitute a standard, specification, or regulation.

The U.S. Government does not endorse products or manufacturers. Trade and manufacturers’ names appear in this report only because they are considered essential to the object of the document.


The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) provides high-quality information to serve Government, industry, and the public in a manner that promotes public understanding. Standards and policies are used to ensure and maximize the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of its information. FHWA periodically reviews quality issues and adjusts its programs and processes to ensure continuous quality improvement.

Technical Report Documentation Page

1. Report No.


2. Government Accession No.

3. Recipient’s Catalog No.

4. Title and Subtitle

Petrographic Methods of Examining Hardened Concrete: A Petrographic Manual
Revised 2004

5. Report Date

July 2006

6. Performing Organization Code

7. Author(s)

Hollis N. Walker, D. Stephen Lane, and Paul E. Stutzman

8. Performing Organization Report No.

VTRC 04-R21

9. Performing Organization Name and Address

Virginia Transportation Research Council
530 Edgemont Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903

10. Work Unit No. (TRAIS)


11. Contract or Grant No.

12. Sponsoring Agency Name and Address

Virginia Department of Transportation
1401 East Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23219

Federal Highway Administration
Office of Infrastructure R&D
6300 Georgetown Pike,
McLean, VA 22101

13. Type of Report and Period Covered

Revised Manual
1997– 2004

14. Sponsoring Agency’s Code

15. Supplementary Notes

Contracting Officer’s Technical Representative (COTR): Richard Meininger, HRDI-11

16. Abstract

This manual provides a comprehensive discussion of equipment and techniques that have been found useful in performing petrographic examinations of hardened concrete and its constituent materials. It includes an introduction and chapters on equipment, general initial procedures, cracks, preparation of specimens, and voids (including determination of the air-void system); determination of volumetric proportions of constituents; examination with the stereomicroscope; the water-cementitious materials ratio; alkali-aggregate reactions; cementitious materials; and examinations with the petrographic, polarizing/epifluorescence, and scanning electron microscopes. An extensive reading list, glossary, and other appendixes are included.

17. Key Words

Petrography, hydraulic cements, portland cement,concrete, aggregate, cracking, voids, microscope,alkali silica reaction (ASR), alkali carbonate reaction (ACR).

18. Distribution Statement

No restrictions. This document is available to the public through the National Technical Information Service, Springfield, VA 22161.

19. Security Classification (of this report)


20. Security Classification (of this page)


21. No. of Pages


22. Price

Form DOT F 1700.7 (8-72 Reproduction of completed page authorized

SI* (Modern Metric) Conversion Factors





AAR Alkali-Aggregate Reaction or Alkali-Aggregate Reactivity
AASHO American Association of State Highway Officials
ACI American Concrete Institute
ACR Alkali-Carbonate Reaction or Alkali-Carbonate Reactivity
ASR Alkali-Silica Reaction or Alkali-Silica Reactivity
ASTM American Society for Testing and Materials
AVA Air-Void Analyzer
BE Backscattered Electrons
BEI Backscattered Electron Imaging
BF Barrier Filters
CH Calcium Hydroxide
COTR Contracting Officer’s Technical Representative
CSA Canadian Standards Association
CSH Calcium Silicate Hydrate
CTE Coefficient of Thermal Expansion
DM Dichroic Mirrors
DOT Department of Transportation
EDS Energy-Dispersive X-Ray Spectrometer
EDX Energy-Dispersive X-Ray Analysis
FHWA Federal Highway Administration
GGBFS Ground Granulated Blast-Furnace Slag
HCC Hydraulic Cement Concrete
HRB Highway Research Board (now the Transportation Research Board)
ICMA International Cement Microscopy Association
ISO International Standards Organization
ITZ Interface Transition Zone
NIST National Institute for Standards and Technology
P/EF Polarizing/Epifluorescence
PCA Portland Cement Association
PCC Portland Cement Concrete (more inclusive term HCC, above, is used throughout)
RH Relative Humidity
SE Secondary Electrons
SEI Secondary Electron Imaging
SEM Scanning Electron Microscope
SHRP Strategic Highway Research Program
SI International System of Units (metric system)
TFHRC Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center
TRB Transportation Research Board (formerly the Highway Research Board)
VTRC Virginia Transportation Research Council
w/cm Water-Cementitious Materials Ratio
XR X-Ray Imaging
XRD X-Ray Diffraction
XRF X-Ray Fluorescence


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