DIY 101: Using Railway Sleepers in Your Garden

August 15, 2019

Using railway sleepers in garden design is a great way of adding something a little different to your outside space this summer, from the natural worn look of reclaimed timbers to the fresh clean edges of newly cut sleepers, the humble railway sleeper is a versatile addition to any garden space. Get your garden ready this summer with great savings on sleepers and more with our Summer Deals!

Why railway sleepers?

Using railway sleepers in the garden is a great way of adding a touch of character to your space. For decades, landscape gardeners have been using the hardy nature of railway sleepers in a multitude of different ways; from retaining walls, raised flower beds and boundaries, to garden paths and steps.
Their natural and often rustic appearance suits all types of garden design, from a chic contemporary space to a traditional cottage garden and even down to a small front garden plot. Their hardy nature ensures that they’ll last for years to come, and if you’ve got kids who love playing out in the garden then they’re a great choice for a kid-proof space too.

What are the different types and which should I use?

As with any addition to your garden landscaping, getting the right type of sleeper for your space is crucial. There are a few different types of railway sleepers to use in your garden design, but here are the main three types to help create that garden space you’ve always dreamed of.

 Oak Landscaping Sleepers

Oak landscaping sleepers are a great longer lasting alternative to softwood sleepers and are great for gardening as they are very simple to stack and construct. The Oak landscaping sleepers have neat straight edges making any project look good with an architectural and modern style. These Oak sleepers are very popular for steps, walls, raised beds, decking, ponds and furniture.

Reclaimed Railway Sleepers

When most people think of using railway sleepers in the garden, what they are probably thinking of are reclaimed railway sleepers. These are timbers which have served as the supporting beams under railway tracks, which have since been dug out and replaced by concrete structures. This variety are notably denser and heavier than their counterparts, which is reflected in the price. Their density and durability does mean, however, that they will last considerably longer than a new sleeper equivalent.

A lot of people choose to use old railway sleepers in their gardens not just for the quality and density of the timber, but for the aesthetics that the worn timber brings. Reclaimed sleepers can be used in exactly the same way as newer sleepers, but it’s worth noting that in their previous working life they may have been treated with creosotes, to help prolong the life of the timber. This substance has a tendency to seep out of the timber when it gets warm, so they may not be suitable for certain purposes, e.g. building a pond. However, their hard wearing nature means that reclaimed sleepers continue to be a popular choice for most garden designs.

Contemporary Softwood Sleepers

Our most popular of our railway sleepers is the newly cut softwood railway sleepers. These provide a sleek finish for almost any design; modern or traditional. Softwood sleepers are just as versatile in their use as the reclaimed timbers. You could treat these sleepers with a variety of finishes, or simply leave the beautiful redwood bare for a contemporary look.

Made from redwood and pressure treated as standard for durability, the benefit of new timbers are that they don’t leak the tar or creosotes that reclaimed wood does in hot weather, making them ideal for building ponds, or places where you might come into frequent contact with the wood, such as steps or benches.

Rustic Design Sleepers 

You could use rustic design sleepers, which are cut from the same softwood redwood timber as the contemporary finish sleepers, but have retained some of the natural shape and rough finish of the bark. This makes them a good option for those looking for hassle-free use of new, untreated timber but also looking for a rugged look in their garden design.

The rounded edges make a nice feature when stacked horizontally, making them an excellent choice for retaining walls or creating steps. After a time, the natural bark finish will slowly come away from the timber, but will retain the pleasant curved shape. As with the contemporary sleepers, you won’t need to add a finish to solid redwood sleepers, but they could benefit from a range of finishes, such as a wood stain or sealant, which can help the longevity of your railway sleepers.

What kind of garden feature could I create?

If you’re dreaming up garden designs using railway sleepers, then thanks to their versatile nature they can do just about anything. Their durable finish makes them ideal for raised flower beds, and you could easily use them as lawn boundaries as an edge between the grass, creating some stunning garden features.

Building a raised flower bed using sleepers is a relatively straightforward process. This simple structure can be transformed into a pond just as easily, too. If you’re unsure where to start, there is an abundance of step-by-step tutorials and guides out there for building a pond from timber sleepers.

Railway sleepers are also a natural choice for retaining walls. You can lay sleepers either horizontally or vertically, and built up to the desired height.

Get creative with your garden design by creating a rustic feature with a set of railway sleeper steps. You can even plant fragrant chamomile in between open steps for a beautiful scent. Using sleepers vertically can make a striking feature in your garden design. You could create a paved patio area, cordoned off with a curved feature wall of sleepers, for example. You could even knock up a quick and easy bench to put on your patio.

And if you don’t have the time or DIY skills to create something yourself but still want to enjoy these wonderful features, then fear not! We have a range of garden furniture all made from sleepers including Sleeper Tables and Sleeper Benches. These furniture pieces are designed for you to mix and match and look great in any outdoor space.

How much do I need & how much does it cost?

So, you’ve got your heart set on using railway sleepers in the garden? You’re unsure how much you’re going to need for your project? Pop into your local branch with your plans and some rough dimensions. One of our expert staff can help bring your design together. Alternatively, give us a call to discuss your ideas.

The cost of using railway sleepers in your garden design depends entirely on the project you have in mind. This will dictate the number of sleepers you need, and what type of finish you go for. Most people choose to leave their railway sleepers bare, letting the natural timber age with time and wear.

If you opt for a finish, there are a number of woodcare products, such as stains or preservers, which could extend the life of your sleepers.

How do I lay them/install them in my space?

Installing railway sleepers in your garden wholly depends on the type of project you are going to be carrying out. If you’re using them as a border, for example, we would suggest embedding them in concrete for added stability.

If your railway sleeper garden design requires multiple rows, then it’s essential to fasten or stake the sleepers together. This will ensure they are stable and rows remain rigid, otherwise there could be a risk of them toppling over.

What other tools do I need?

For most projects using railway sleepers, we recommend using these essential tools:
– Saw
– Sandpaper
– Sanding block
– Planer for taking the sharp edge off
– Wood finish

Tips and tricks

One thing to bear in mind is that railway sleepers can be slippery when damp. If you’re planning on using sleepers for a set of steps, maybe consider fastening chicken wire over the top. You could also cut notches in the wood to prevent accidents.

When handling timbers, particularly reclaimed sleepers, it’s sensible to use gloves to protect your skin. Some timbers may have been treated with creosotes that could be harmful if handled too much.

The ends of sleepers can also be mitred to create some interesting shapes in your garden design, so get creative!

Why not check out our Pinterest board for some more inspiration on creating your perfect garden with sleepers!