• How to Cut Railway Sleepers

    | by Holly Wood

    Are you looking to transform your garden with a touch of rustic charm and durability? Learning how to cut railway sleepers can open up a world of possibilities for DIY enthusiasts and garden lovers alike. These robust, versatile pieces are perfect for everything from building raised beds and retaining walls to crafting unique garden furniture.

    In this blog, we’ll delve into the practical steps and essential tips to help you cut railway sleepers like a pro, ensuring your garden projects not only look fantastic but also stand the test of time.

    Understanding the Basics of Railway Sleepers

    Before diving into the cutting process, it’s essential to know what railway sleepers are.

    Traditionally, railway sleepers are the rectangular supports laid perpendicular to the rails on train tracks.

    Nowadays, they are popular in landscaping for creating garden sleepers, flower beds, and other garden features.

    Moreover, they come in various materials, including softwood sleepers and oak sleepers, each having unique properties like natural tannins in oak that offer added durability.

    Choosing the Right Tools for Cutting Railway Sleepers

    The success of cutting railway sleepers lies in selecting the right power tools. The most common tools include:

    • Circular Saw: Ideal for cutting straight lines and achieving accurate cuts in timber. Ensure you use a circular saw blade with the correct rating for the material.
    • Reciprocating Saw: This power tool is perfect for more intricate cuts or if you’re cutting sleepers already fixed in place.
    • Chainsaw: For thicker, tougher sleepers like oak, a chain saw might be necessary. Always check the chain’s sharpness and consider re-sharpening or fitting a new chain if it’s blunt.
    • Hand Saw: For smaller adjustments or if you prefer manual cutting, a robust hand saw can do the job.

    Preparation: Safety and Measurements

    Safety first! Always wear protective gear, including work gloves, a dust mask, ear defenders, and protective eyewear.

    Before cutting, measure and mark the sleeper using a square angle ruler and a spirit level to ensure straight lines.

    To avoid splitting the wood, it’s advisable to drill pilot holes, especially when dealing with hardwood like oak sleepers.

    The Cutting Process

    1. Setting Up: Secure the sleeper on a stable surface. If cutting multiple sleepers, consider creating a jig for uniformity.
    2. Marking: Use a straight line to mark where you’ll cut. A spirit level can help in ensuring the line is even.
    3. Choosing the Blade: Select an appropriate blade for your power tool. For oak sleepers, a blade meant for cutting hardwood is essential.
    4. Cutting: Start your saw and gently guide it along the marked line. For circular saws, you may need more than one pass, especially if the sleeper is thick. With a chainsaw, ensure you cut through the central sections smoothly.
    5. Finishing Touches: Sand down the cut ends for a smooth finish. If the sleepers are for use in the garden, treating the cut ends with a preservative can prolong their life.

    Installation Tips

    Once you cut the sleepers, you can start assembling your project.

    Whether it’s for garden furniture or retaining walls, use stainless steel screws for added stability and to prevent corrosion.

    For retaining wall sleepers, ensure they are well-supported by the ground and consider adding gravel or concrete at the base for extra stability.

    It’s hard work but extremely rewarding when you see your project come to life.

    Maintenance and Care

    After installation, regular maintenance of your railway sleeper creations is key. Check for any loose screw heads and tighten them.

    Over time, the sleepers might naturally weather, adding to their rustic appeal. If you prefer to maintain their original look, periodic treatments might be necessary.


    Cutting railway sleepers might seem time-consuming, but it’s a task filled with satisfaction, especially when you see your garden transform with these rustic, robust additions.

    Remember, the right tool, a bit of elbow grease, and attention to detail are all you need to turn these robust timbers into beautiful, functional garden features. Happy cutting!

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