Instructables

How to Build a Railroad Tie Retaining Wall

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Picture of How to Build a Railroad Tie Retaining Wall
If you have a slope that is need of a retaining wall and have access to railroad ties, this is the perfect project for you! We'll be showing you how we made a railroad tie retaining wall in between two of our shops. We had 18 inches of a hill that needed to be retained. This is how we made a basic retaining wall using railroad ties found on our farm. 
 
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Step 1: Level and tamp down the area

Picture of Level and tamp down the area
First, we leveled the area where to wall was going to be. Actually, it is slightly sloping down away from the building. We then tamped the dirt to make a nice, hard foundation. Tamping the dirt will also help to minimize settling and shifting of the wall. Although, it will settle and shift a bit no matter what you do.

Step 2: Cut the area to make a snug fit for the railroad ties

You want to cut the area where the wall will be square so the ties fit in there nicely. Make the area about 5 or 6 inches deeper than the railroad ties so you have room to fill the area behind the tie wall with gravel. This will allow any water coming down the hill to seep into the gravel instead of bulging out your tie wall and eventually making it fall down or move. 

Step 3: Add in a layer of gravel

Picture of Add in a layer of gravel
Once you've got a good area for your wall made, put down a foundational layer of gravel. We did ours about 4 inches thick and tamped it down real good. This will provide bottom drainage for the wall, allowing the water to drain away through the gravel instead of pushing the railroad ties out or eroding the dirt away from the wall.
DanTDM3 months ago

Utility poles are also good. First, get some poles. You can find them at some stores, or you can just cut down a pole.

ntinumirov5 months ago
www.epa.gov/iris/subst/0360.htm creosote
ntinumirov5 months ago
step1 - find rail road.. step2 steal some ties...
rnorton25 months ago

i've built more railroad tie walls and walkways than i care to think about. good job. for other s considering this project. you need to consider several other things, 1 the height and length of the wall, his little 8 foot 3 stack wall doesn't need weed blocker or drainage unless you have some serious erosion issues. if your wall gets over 3 feet in height then you need to add dead men every 6 or eight feet apart. and how involved they get will depend on the over all dimensions of the wall and the what are you retaining, what is behind the wall and what kind of runoff are you going to be dealing with. on a large scale wall you would add the dead men and re-bar them and possibly add concrete to really keep them in place.also weed block and drainage as the other person suggested. as for using pressure treated wood its really a preference thing. the pressure treated equivalent would cost you prolly 3 times as much but would last longer. as for the R/R ties they are treated with creosote and will last a very long time. use gloves and protective clothing and eyewear and be careful with the ties and pressure treated would they both cause cancer (the Creosote) remove any splinters immediately. i had one i couldn't get out right then (at work) and it was infected by lunch i think it was. if anyone has questions holler.

Hollering :

What is a dead man ? I know I heard it before but as English remains a foreign language to me I just can't put my finger on it !

Ridiculous, huh ? … ;))

See this article.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deadman_(disambiguation)

Thanks to all for helping understand "dead man".

I really appreciate.

no not vertically horizontally (like a dead man) so you make like a big T on the ground .
a dead man runs perpendicular to the wall and back into the ground you are retaining. you usually can see the end of the dead man from the front of the wall. this is to give the wall stability so it doesn't lean over.

Ah ! I see. It's like a post planted vertically in the ground then.

Thank you for answering.

Have a nice week

nehmo vincent75205 months ago

A deadman is an anchor going back into the dirt on high side of the retaining wall usually made form more ties or other wood. There are other methods to secure the wall, but I won't bother describing them because I object to this kind of wall on enviormental and aestetic grounds.

rnorton25 months ago

here is a link to some pictures of deadmen

google deadmen retaining wall

dummy19775 months ago

I once rented a house in a very hilly area where a previous owner had a railroad tie retaining wall. By the time we got there, it was rotting out with the foundation threatening the house below. It cost the owner an arm and a leg (and a nearby shed) to repair the damage, but not as much as a pending lawsuit could've. They replaced it with blocks in what probably was the nick of time.

nehmo5 months ago

How much poison is in a typical railroad tie? Does it kill plants? Pets? Do you want your kids chewing on a piece?

And what about the aesthetic appeal? Beautiful, huh?

If you want a low retaining wall, use segmented blocks. But anything, even simply reinforcing the pitch of the grade with internal geogrids (plastic-fiberglass webbing) would be preferable.

Jawatech5 months ago

Yeah those railroad ties are no joke. There is a town near where I live that is plagued with cancer from a plant that makes these things. Everyone was using them for their gardens because the plant would just give them away. Now almost everyone in the entire town has stomach cancer.

http://www.houstonpress.com/2007-12-06/news/toxic-...

I was thinking about the same thing. I read an article once about how they were removing ties from a uranium mine and had to build a machine to pass each one thru to see if it was radioactive or not. The whole thing was automated and the radiation detector would toggle a lane change to send the glow-in-the-darks to one holding are and the safe ones to another.

noelsgordon5 months ago

I built some retaining walls like this in the 1980s. The white ants (termites) made nests inside these and eventually tunnelled under and into the house and started eating the timber studs in the walls ! Fortunately we discovered this before too much damage was done but it cost thousands of dollars to exterminate them. They could have easily DESTROYED our whole house. Effective poisons that deter termites have been banned. Think carefully before you try this. Creosote eventually won't deter termites.

chuckyd5 months ago

Well done instructable. An alternative method with the anchors is to place then horizontally through the ties into the soil. Anchor them to the wood the way you did and extend into the backfill about 5 feet. Place a square plate on the far end either by welding or bolting. Coat all the metal with a heavy coat of asphaltic goop and bury in the back fill. Tamp down the dirt around and over the anchors and finish out. I used this method on 10 foot high brick retaining wall about 20 years ago, and the anchors are still holding.

vincent75205 months ago

Nice.

At a friends place we made higher retaining walls the same way. However we didn't drove pins in the ties as we drove some vertically into the ground as retaining posts.

All in all we found that loading the ties from the railroad company who let us pick them from their yard, loading them onto the truck unloading them and moving them where we wanted them was the hardest part. Those babies are heavy !!…

I have a question though : why didn't you offset each as you laid them so they would make steps : they have the perfect height. Question is certainly stupid as you certainly have thought of it.

vladivastok5 months ago

LIKE YOUR WALL. ANY MORE DEPTH MIGHT NEED TO BE TIED INTO A BUTTRES,OR ON AN INSIDE WALL WOULD BE A SMALLER PILASTER.

KryptoCleric5 months ago

Nicely done! Very well described, but I did have one question ... it looks like you recessed each level as you moved up the stack of ties. Was this intentional, or did the ties vary in width? Thanks.

85rocco5 months ago

In the past, I've built several walls this way but in my area (probably
many other areas too) used railroad ties are no longer available as they are now
considered to be hazardous waste due the creosote and other chemicals
used to preserve them or so I was told the last time I tried to buy some

where do you get railroad ties?

most large lumber yards get em. I cant remember getting them at the chain places. we spent like 8 dollars a pop but we bought in bulk too. you can expect 10 to 12 dollars. also look them over some R/R ties are hollow from decay.

suchandsuchfarm (author)  jschermerhorn15 months ago
We found these railroad ties on our farm, they were here when we moved in. Try craigslist, you may be able to find some there!
Fan Blades5 months ago
you do realise that railroad ties are old deteriorated wood right? why go to all the labour with worn out materials. get new pressure treated and don't forget to coat all fresh cuts with end cut liquid.
camping crazy5 months ago

Nice instructable!! Where I live you cant get railroad ties but you can pretty easily get pressure treated guardrail post they are the same size but a bit longer... You can also get the old creosote treated ones!! Thanks for posting!!

You forgot drain tile! The water will get stuck behind the retaining wall and/or erode away all the stuff you just put in. You should get some black drainage pipe and an outlet to let the water around the wall. It might be difficult to do now, and I don't know how much water there is coming at the wall from a hill or something, but it's certainly better than water in your house...

Otherwise, nice job! I've helped do this same sort of thing before, and it's definitely not easy.