24/7 Support  01727 226666

Find a Branch

Lawsons are the largest independent timber, building & fencing merchants in London and the South East of England. Established in 1921 Lawsons now have a number of branches offering the complete range of building materials.

Find Your Nearest Branch

How to make a retaining wall with railway sleepers

How to make a retaining wall with railway sleepers

Wooden sleepers are an excellent alternative to bricks or concrete for building retaining walls in your garden. Not only do they look beautiful, but they are often a much more affordable option.

Garden sleepers can be used both horizontally and vertically when building a retaining wall. Using sleepers horizontally is more common when constructing a low level wall. The method you choose for construction should be determined by the height of the bed or bank that you wish to retain.

We have come up with three easy, step-by-step instructions on how to make a retaining wall using our railway sleepers:



Step 1 – Mark out where to build your wall

Clear any surface vegetation and then measure and mark out where your wall will go. You will need to ensure the area is level. You can use a bed of sand if required.


Step 2 – Lay your sleepers

Lay your row of sleepers using your marked area as a guide. Try to leave a 1-2cm gap between each sleeper to allow for water drainage. You will need to ensure that this first layer is sitting flat on the ground, with no movement when you press on them.

All following rows of sleepers should overlap the joints in the bottom row, similar to the pattern of laying bricks. You can then add nails, rods or landscaping screws, (depending on the thickness of your sleepers) to hold the sleepers in place and improve the strength of the wall.


Step 3 - Finishing off

Continue to lay rows of sleepers until you reach your desired height and ensure all rows have been secured. You are now ready to fill the area inside your retaining wall.


Things to remember…

Remember to think about drainage. If there is a possibility of water building up behind your wall, you should ensure a layer of gravel, or a drainage pipe has been installed at the base of the sleepers. This will need to be done at the start of your build.

Also take into consideration that sleepers are very heavy and care should be taken when handling them. Ask a friend or family member for an extra pair of hands to help you complete your project.


Cutting Sleepers

If you can avoid cutting your sleepers, that would be great, however, this is not always possible and you may want a specific retaining sleeper wall size. There are many ways to cut your sleepers, such as using a hand saw but this is very time consuming. We recommend choosing a mechanical saw, which will cut the sleepers quickly and sharply, especially oak sleepers.  

If you choose to use reclaimed sleepers, first of all it is important to know that reclaimed sleepers are treated with creosote, which makes them unsuitable for gardens with children present or for retaining vegetable beds. Also, when you cut reclaimed sleepers with a blade, you must be careful as there can be a chance of a foreign object being present in the timber which can cause injury and damage to the blade. 


For more ideas and inspiration on how you can use railway sleepers around your garden please see our previous blog posts: 

How to Lay Railway Sleepers in the Garden

How to Build a Retaining Wall with Railway Sleepers (Horizontally)

What type of Railway Sleepers are there?