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Railway Sleepers – a Great Landscaping Resource

Author: Tory Lane

A faster and cheaper alternative to brickwork and masonry, sleepers can be used as edgings for driveways or for retaining soil, as well as many other uses. When compared to the time consuming task of setting kerbs in concrete or laying down a foundation and building a brick wall, sleepers are very quick to use.

Another great advantage in my view is the fact that they are made from wood, a natural material which is visually soft so in keeping with many of the structures associated with garden landscaping.

Sleepers for Soil Retention

Often we are faced with reconciling a difference in ground levels between different parts of our landscape projects. Our preferred answer is to build a retaining wall, which railway sleepers are great for. The height of the structure will indicate how the sleepers should be held in position.

Generally the sleepers will be laid lengthwise and whether on edge or flat will depend on the strength, your preference and budget. To hold them in position for walls proposed to be 1M high or more then steel H section columns (known as UC or Universal Column) can be used. Lower heights can be accommodated more cheaply using part of a sleeper dug into the ground and erected in vertical fashion. The lowest heights of 150-400mm will require very little to secure the sleepers into position, depending on the length and shape (right angles tend to add strength).

Fixing Railway Sleepers

Use Landscaping screws.  These are extremely strong steel screws available up to 250mm in length. These items have a hexagonal head and are fixed using a power drill. They will screw themselves right through a sleeper and fix into the one below. They need an extremely high force before they pull out so they make a really strong joint.

Which Sleeper to Use?

There are two main types of Sleepers, New or Recycled, with new being divided between Hardwood Oak Sleepers and Treated Softwood Sleepers. The choice will be affected partly by the strengths and weaknesses of each product, together with personal preference and budget.

Recycled Sleepers – These are very cost effective.  Many of these sleepers are hardwood, with a pressure creosoted treatment.  This means they are extremely durable but the creosote finish means they are not suitable where there is a risk of frequent skin contact or indeed of marking clothing. One solution for tall structures is to clad over the face of the structure with fencing products to cover the sleepers.

New Sleepers - Turning first to Oak.  These are an attractive product and oak in its natural untreated state always gives off the impression of quality.  These sleepers are also very durable even when cut up into sections and inserted into the ground. Oak costs more than treated softwood, but normally outlasts the equivalent treated softwood product. 
Secondly turning to treated softwood sleepers.  The benefits of these products are that they are a cheaper option and they are lighter than oak, making handling easier.

      Tips on Using Sleepers

    1. Cutting is easiest done with a chainsaw, but for small numbers a new handsaw will suffice.
      1. To move sleepers around will normally require 2 people due to their size and weight.
      2. New Oak Sleepers will have a best face and recycled are different in appearance each side, so you should rotate the sleepers to get the right look.
        • Next Step

      For further help and advice on which sleeper would be best for your next garden project or to get a free quote, I would suggest you contact a local stockist.  If you are based in Sussex, Surrey or Cambridgeshire I would recommend you contact AVS Fencing Supplies Ltd; check out their website at

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      About the Author

      Tory Lane is a freelance writer and an interior decorator. For more information on railway sleepers and wood fencing he recommends you to log on to