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Should I Buy New or Used Railway Sleepers?

Railway sleepers are one of the most popular gardening trends of 2016 – designers and gardeners are using them for everything from creating paths, retaining walls and to building planters.

There is a range of railway sleepers available – they vary in colour, wood, and size, but there are also used and new sleepers on the market so it can be difficult to decide which to buy. That’s why we’ve created this short overview so that you can find out about the main differences between new and used railway sleepers.

New Railway Sleepers

New railway sleepers tend to be made from softwoods such as pine or spruce, but you can also find new oak sleepers at a higher price. Softwood sleepers are not quite as durable as the used, hardwood sleepers but they do have straight edges and no wear, so they’re suitable for projects where you want a crisp edge and consistent sizes or finishes.

You can also choose from a range of colours or treatments. In most instances, you can’t do this with used sleepers since they have their own patina rather than a stained colour.

Because the majority of new sleepers are made from softwoods, they tend to be lighter than used sleepers, so they’re easier to handle. They’re also a little cheaper due to the material.

New oak railway sleepers are usually more expensive than the used ones but are far easier to treat and paint than their used counterparts.

Used Railway Sleepers

Used railway sleepers are the top choice for gardeners and designers who would like to add some character to their project. Since hardwoods are more durable, you’ll find that the majority of used sleepers that are in good condition will be made from oak. While there are some used softwood sleepers on the market, they often have very broken edges and are in much worse condition. If you are looking for a softwood sleeper, it’s best to go for new ones.

Used sleepers are dark or medium brown in colour as generally have been treated with an oil based preservative.. Sizing for used sleepers is only approximate, unlike new sleepers, since they may have been cut decades ago. This means that the sizing may only be very rough and weather has made its own changes to the wood. If you need exact accuracy in your project, softwood sleepers are the best choice again.

Making Your Choice

Sleepers are an excellent material – they’re durable, relatively easy to use (if you don’t mind heavy lifting), and extremely versatile. As with any material, it’s important that it’s suitable for your project. Typically, if you need exact sizing and clean edges, new sleepers are the way to go. If you’d like a little character and the ‘distressed’ look, used sleepers will deliver that for you. Finally, if you’re on a budget and just want to try out an idea, it’s probably best to use new, softwood sleepers so that you can buy everything you need for less. 

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