Standard Test Method for Tensile Properties of Plastics


The ASTM D638 test method is one of the most popular methods used to determine the tensile strength of reinforced and unreinforced plastics using a standard dumbbell or dog-bone shaped sample under consistent temperature, humidity, and test speed. Materials up to 14 mm thick can be tested using this procedure. If your samples are greater than 14 mm in thickness they should be machined down to the proper thickness. If the material being tested is less than 1 mm thick ASTM D882 is the preferred test method.

Test Frame, Grips and Accessories

United manufactures and supplies a wide range of Universal Test Machines, grips, and accessories to help you perform ASTM D638. Universal Test Machines are differentiated by capacity and choosing the proper test frame is determined by how much force is required to break the sample. If you are unsure as to how much capacity is required United will perform a free sample test to help you determine system capacity requirements.

United offers Universal Test Machines that range in capacity from our single-column 2.5kN (550 Lbf) up to 600kN (449,000 Lbf) dual-column frames. Our 50 kN and 100 kN dual-column frames are available in both table model and floor model configurations.

Frame Capacity Configuration
2.5 kN Table Model
5 kN Table Model
10 kN Table Model
25 kN Table Model
50 kN Table & Floor Model
100 kN Table & Floor Model
150 kN Floor Model
300 kN Floor Model
600 kN Floor Model


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The standard itself specifies that the test apparatus, grips, and accessories provide the following;

Test Frame




In order to obtain certain calculations such as Modulus of Elasticity, Secant Modulus and Poisson’s ratio the use of an extensometer is required. Calculating these results using only the grip separation at break does not provide enough precision or accuracy. When calculating Poisson’s ratio a Transverse Extensometer will be required. United supplies a wide variety of extensometers for the ASTM D638 test procedure including contact and non-contact extensometers such as Video or  Laser extensometers. All extensometers are calibrated per ASTM E83 and are available in a wide variety of gauge lengths with varying strain measuring ranges, depending on the samples being tested.

Test Specimens

ASTM D638 references several different types of test specimens depending on the material being tested, material thickness, and characteristics displayed when it breaks. Methods of preparing test specimens include injection molding, machining operations, or die-cutting from materials in sheet, plate, slab, or similar form. Please refer to the most recent published standard to obtain the exact dimensions of the samples.

Sheet, Plate, and Molded Plastics

Non-rigid Plastics

Reinforced Composites

Rigid Tubes

Rigid tubes are hollow specimens and special preparation is required so that when the test is performed the tube is not crushed by the grips causing premature failure. The center portion of the tube is machined down to 60% of its original diameter so that when tension is applied this portion will break first since it is thinner. Steel or brass plugs should fit snugly inside the hollow tube ends and should be placed in the ends of the specimens to prevent crushing by the grips. Plugs can be located conveniently in the tube by separating and supporting them on a threaded metal rod.

Rigid Rods

Rigid rods are solid samples but the principal behind sample preparation is the same. The center portion of the sample is machined down to 60% of its original diameter making it thinner than the ends so that when tension is applied the sample is more likely to break in the middle.

Specific dimensions for these types of samples are specified in the standard and the most recent version of the standard should be referenced to obtain these dimensions.

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Test Calculations and Reporting

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing customers that are new to this standard are the calculations and reporting required.

United’s Datum5i software along with one of our Universal Test Machines is fully capable of performing the ASTM D638 test procedure. Each UTM we sell includes the test frame, loadcell, Windows ® PC, Datum-5i software, and the pre-written test procedure to get you up and running quickly. Custom or modified test procedures can easily be written. Presentation quality test reports displaying all necessary calculations are available immediately and data is stored in a secure and easy to search Access ® database. Writing test procedures other than ASTM D638 using Datum-5i is easy to do and no additional fees or license is required to write or modify additional test procedures.


ASTM D638 requires the following to be calculated;


United has done virtually all the work for our customers when it comes to performing the ASTM D638 test procedure. All customers need to do is determine which sample type they will be testing so we can choose the proper test frame capacity and grips.

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References - ASTM D638-14, Standard Test Method for Tensile Properties of Plastics, ASTM International, West Conshohocken, PA, 2014,