The Ten Books on Architecture, 2.4

Vitruvius  translated by Morris Hicky Morgan

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4In walls of masonry the first question must be with regard to the sand, in order that it may be fit to mix into mortar and have no dirt in it. The kinds of pitsand are these: black, gray, red, and carbuncular. Of these the best will be found to be that which crackles when rubbed in the hand, while that which has much dirt in it will not be sharp enough. Again: throw some sand upon a white garment and then shake it out; if the garment is not soiled and no dirt adheres to it, the sand is suitable.

2But if there are no sandpits from which it can be dug, then we must sift it out from river beds or from gravel or even from the sea beach. This kind, however, has these defects when used in masonry: it dries slowly; the wall cannot be built up without interruption but from time to time there must be pauses in the work; and such a wall cannot carry vaultings. Furthermore, when sea-sand is used in walls and these are coated with stucco, a salty efflorescence is given out which spoils the surface.

3But pitsand used in masonry dries quickly, the stucco coating is permanent, and the walls can support vaultings. I am speaking of sand fresh from the sandpits. For if it lies unused too long after being taken out, it is disintegrated by exposure to sun, moon, or hoar frost, and becomes earthy. So when mixed in masonry, it has no binding power on the rubble, which consequently settles and down comes the load which the walls can no longer support. Fresh pitsand, however, in spite of all its excellence in concrete structures, is not equally useful in stucco, the richness of which, when the lime and straw are mixed with such sand, will cause it to crack as it dries on account of the great strength of the mixture. But river sand, though useless in “signinum” on account of its thinness, becomes perfectly solid in stucco when thoroughly worked by means of polishing instruments.

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