How to Build a Railroad Tie Retaining Wall

sawing through materials
What You'll Need
Railroad ties
Chain Saw
1/2 diameter rebar
Landscape fabric

If you want a retaining wall with rustic charm, consider building a railroad-tie retaining wall. One of these walls is made up of ranks, or horizontal rows, of treated wood. The ties are held to the ground and each other with spikes of rebar. Use the following guidelines to construct your own wall.

Step 1 – Measurements

Estimate Number of Railroad Ties

Before making an order for supplies, you need to find out how many railroad ties you need. Estimate the number of linear feet in the length of your wall and the number of ranks you will need. If your wall is more than two-ranks tall, you will need deadmen every 8 feet. Don't forget to add in the linear feet necessary for all of the deadmen. Sum up your total linear feet, and then add a little bit more to account for errors, warped ties, and cut ends.

Estimate Amount of Rebar

Estimate the amount of rebar you need. Sixteen-inch pieces will tie the ends of each railroad tie to the tie below, and 18-inch pieces will tie the ends of the bottom rank of railroad ties to the ground. Keep the deadheads from sliding out of the soil by placing 18-inch lengths of rebar perpendicularly through the far end before burying it.

Step 2 – Preparation

Start by removing the soil in the current slope. You will have to take the soil back further than where you want the wall to be to have space to install the retaining wall. The soil will later be backfilled to meet the wall. Level the ground where you intend to install your wall. Compact the soil well to provide a stable base.

Step 3 – Build the First Two Ranks

Warning: Always use gloves when handling pressure- and chemical-treated wood. Although this wood lasts longer than non-treated wood, there are chemicals in it that could be hazardous to your health, and the wood is often rough and splintery.

Use a chain saw to cut the ties to length. Offset the ends to keep the rebar lengths from interfering.

Then, lay out the first rank on the leveled ground. Tie the ends into the soil with 18-inch lengths of rebar. Lay out the second rank, and then tie the ends into the first rank with 16-inch lengths of rebar.

Step 3 – Include Deadmen At Higher Ranks

At higher ranks, deadmen must be added every 8 feet. Hammer a length of rebar perpendicularly through the far end of each deadmen before installing it into the soil. Set the near end on the rank below and spike it into the tie below with a 16-inch piece of rebar. Offset each rank so that neither the deadmen, nor the ties overlap.

Step 4 – Spread the Backfill

Staple a layer of landscape fabric to the back of the wall to keep soil from filtering through the gaps between ties. Provide a layer of gravel at the back of the wall to promote good drainage and improve the lifespan of your wall. Then, fill in the rest of the space behind it with good soil. Avoid expansive clays that will push the wall out of place.