Railway Sleepers are ideal for creating garden walls and retainers as they do not require the skills involved in building brick walls. They also can produce the end results quicker than bricks due to their size; this does have a downside though, as they can be very heavy to work with and would normally require two people to move them.
Once you have planned the position of the wall then there is a little preparation to do, the ground needs levelling with a shallow trench to allow for a pea shingle bed; this has two benefits in that it will make levelling the first row of sleepers easier and also allows for drainage so the sleepers do not sit in water.
The traditional way of building a sleeper wall is to lay out the first row of sleepers horizontally and then lay the next layer in a brick work fashion on top. Fixing the second layer to the first with Landscaping screws, replicating the procedure until the required height has been reached. If the wall has corners in, then it will be self supporting; but if it is a straight wall then strengthening posts would be required behind the wall, inserted into the ground and fixed to the back of the sleepers.
In an ideal world you would plan your wall to avoid cutting the sleepers, but this is sometimes unavoidable; sleepers can be cut with a hand saw, but this is a time consuming task if you have a few to cut. The use of a mechanical saw would speed up the process and possibly give better results in the end. Do remember that if using second hand sleepers there is a chance of foreign objects being present in the timber, along with the tar this will dull and possibly damage any blade used.
There is no limit to the way these can be used for soil retention. They can be used horizontally with vertical supporting members, they can be used horizontally between pairs of railway sleepers set vertically or can be used horizontally with steel universal column posts.
An important part of the build is ensuring there is adequate drainage to ensure the wall doesn't rot or deteriorate. Between the back of the wall and the soil being retained should be a waterproof membrane and layer of hardcore or shingle to ensure the free draining of any water build up.
Types of Sleepers
Second Hand Sleepers are the most economical, and can achieve a more rustic look, but due to the tar and their old fixings they are not suitable for gardens with children present. In the summer heat the tar can leach out which also does not make them suitable for retaining vegetable beds. They also can not be used in any public areas for legal reasons.
New Softwood Sleepers are uniform in their dimensions giving a clean modern appearance. They are often lighter to handle than second hand sleepers and certainly easier to cut. The treatment process makes them safe for use in all garden and landscaping projects
New Oak Sleepers again are uniform in their dimensions, but the difference is they are a great deal heavier than the softwood. Due to being Oak they have not been treated as they have their own natural protection, however they can be oiled or stained if required. We would recommend mechanical cutting these as due to their density using a hand saw would take you an age to cut