How To Cut Reclaimed Railway Sleepers

  • What is a reclaimed railway sleeper?
  • The known issues with railway sleepers.

Railway sleepers have a lifespan of up to 25 years and can be a unique touch to a home’s garden or for commercial use.

All about reclaimed railway sleepers

Railway sleepers are traditionally used to lay railway tracks on. They are large pieces of wood that are cut into a long rectangular shape for exactly that purpose.

However, these pieces of timber are now often used in gardens or for landscaping purposes to add a more vintage look to the area. Some homeowners employ the use of reclaimed railway sleepers in raised flower beds or as border edging for their lawn.

They’ve also been used in a variety of other ways.

But the major difference between a railway sleeper and a reclaimed railway sleeper is that a reclaimed railway sleeper is one which was previously used on a railway line and has, therefore, been removed and replaced.

Though railway sleepers have a lifespan of approximately 20 to 30 years when they’re properly cared for, they’re often replaced earlier to ensure that the foundation of the trainline is as safe as possible.

Oak railway sleepers, just as an example, can usually be down for over 30 years before they need to be replaced. While softwood treated railway sleepers may need changing out sooner.

Railway sleepers repurposed as a garden pathway.

Why there are issues with using railway sleepers

Some older railway sleepers were treated with a chemical treatment called Creosote. Creosote is no longer used on railway sleepers, but if you’re looking to reclaim older railway sleepers, you may want to look into the treatment that was used on it before you buy any.

Creosote is a type of chemical that is fairly toxic. If you physically touch any products that have been treated with creosote, you might notice a rash or your eyes might become irritated. These are early signs that you’ve been in contact with something treated with creosote.

The amateur use of creosote was based in the EU in 2003 due to concerns over untrained persons using a toxic chemical to treat wood on their premises. Even breathing in creosote can cause respiratory issues.

This is one of the main reasons that today’s railways use concrete rather than treated railway sleepers as the foundation for their railway lines. That’s not to say that there are no railway sleepers around anymore! Not at all, they just aren’t being treated with creosote anymore.

When shopping for reclaimed railway sleepers, it’s actually pretty common to find untreated ones that might be perfect for your needs.

Where to use railway sleepers on your property

Found some safe reclaimed railway sleepers to use on your property? We’re excited for you! Railway sleepers can add a wonderfully antique or vintage aesthetic to a home or garden space.

One of the most typical reasons that a railway sleeper may be being used in someone’s garden is for something like a garden path. Garden paths that use reclaimed railway sleepers can look absolutely amazing, particularly if they’re laid out like a mini railway line.

There are other ways we can use a railway sleeper in the garden, some of the most popular ideas include:

  1. Raining walls
  2. Decking/patio
  3. Steps
  4. Water features
  5. Garden furniture
A bench made using reclaimed railway sleepers.

Cutting reclaimed railway sleepers

If you’re cutting oak sleepers, know that oak can shrink over time, so fix your timer together very tightly during the building process.

The safest way to cut your reclaimed railway sleepers is to cut them outside using proper PPE and a circular saw. You can also use a chainsaw if you feel comfortable doing so.

On a raised workbench or area where you can safely cut your sleepers, lay down your timber. You’ll notice that many of your planks are different colours and some may be a bit longer than the others.

A circular saw may not be large enough to cut through your timer as you’d like and will require several cuts to make it through. Though a circular saw will provide a nicer-looking cut, a chainsaw will get you through the wood in one solid motion.

Many homeowners prefer using a circular saw because it does give a cleaner cut.

Once you’ve cut the timber to your measurements, you might find that you need to sand off the corners and edges of each of your reclaimed railway sleepers. How much sanding you do will depend entirely on the look that you’re after from your sleepers.

Some companies will also cut your sleepers to size for you, but you can expect an added cost for this service.

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