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Garden Sleepers - What's the Difference?
Wondering which railway sleepers are best for the job at-hand?
Luckily for you, the Suregreen team have been busy putting together answers to your frequently asked questions!
What are railway sleepers?

Traditionally used to lay rail tracks on, these are large rectangular sawn pieces of timber that are now used in a variety of landscaping and gardening environments, such as raised beds, lawn and border edging, steps, pathways and retaining walls.

What is the difference between softwood and hardwood sleepers?  What are softwood sleepers made from?

Our softwood sleepers are sawn from pine, spruce and larch wood.  They are from faster growing trees where the wood is not as dense and slow growing as hardwoods such as oak. As the softwood is not as naturally dense and strong, they are pressure-treated to counter this and offer long-lasting protection against damp and rot. Hardwood sleepers are from slower growing trees, predominantly oak (Quercus Cerris & Robur), where the wood is dense and heavy, and thus naturally strong and resistant to the elements of nature without the need for treatments.

How long do railway sleepers last?

Railway sleepers will last for years, with our softwood treated sleepers they can last around 20 to 30 years due to the pressurised treatment. If they are untreated they will still last around two to five years, whilst Oak sleepers will last for 30+ years.

Do I need to apply treatments to the sleepers? 

Our softwood sleepers are already pressure treated, so you do not need to treat them with a wood preservative unless you sawn them into different lengths, leaving the ends needing protecting. Hardwood sleepers do not need treating, but will benefit from a lick of oil (such as linseed or Danish) to keep their aesthetics on top form.

What does tanalised mean?  What pressure treatment do you use?

Pressure treatment, also known as tanalisation, refers to the way in which the timber is treated. Our timber is cut from sustainably run forests, then sawn into the required shapes. After reaching the correct moisture content (around 25% max), it is put in a large cylinder. When the doors to the cylinder are shut, a chemical such as Tanalith E is added to cover all the wood, before up to 13 bar of pressure is applied to ensure the preservative chemical is absorbed. The chemical is then drained from the cylinder, before the timber is vacuumed to pull out any chemical left. This leaves treated wood to remain resistant to the elements of nature.

What is the difference between green and brown treatments?

The treatment process is exactly the same, however the brown treated sleepers have a brown dye added - there is no difference other than the aesthetics (and price!) 

Do you use Creosote on your railway sleepers?

The short answer is: NO.  Historically, Creosote used to be used for railways sleepers as it is the ultimate treatment for timber for ensuring longevity. However, this is now outlawed for the domestic market - and on a hot day, the last thing you want is a sleeper sweating out tar on your pristine garden! Creosote now is only used for commercial fencing for livestock applications and telegraph poles. 

What is the difference between reclaimed and new sleepers?

Reclaimed sleepers are the result of the railways replacing Creosote treated sleepers with Concrete and other new materials. They are popular for their look, but are messy, hard to stack and when it comes down to it - not as good for landscaping as other sleepers. Brown treated look similar, but are far safer for children and pets, and will not sweat over time in the heat like the reclaimed sleepers. The Rolls Royce of sleepers are the heat-treated charred brushwood sleepers. These have the looks of a perfect grade reclaimed sleeper, but only more so, and are uniform in size and appearance, whilst retaining the intricate grains of the wood. They are softer to touch, and generally have a pleasing vibe to them. You have to see them to believe what we are talking about - and for those that spend a bit more for them (they take a lot of work to produce such a condition, and are larger in size than standard sleepers), they are never disappointed. 

How can I use railway sleepers in my garden? 

Sleepers can be used in all manner of ways. The most popular uses are for retaining walls, border edging and raised beds, however we have seen people make raised deck areas from them, use sleepers vertically to create fences and walls, and one customer even used them to make a swimming pool for the summer! They can be secured and lined to make ponds, and many gardeners and landscapers use them to make benches, tables and other features in the garden.

Check out our how-to guides:

How to Build a Raised Pond with Timber Railway Sleepers
How to Build a Sandpit with Timber Railway Sleepers
How to Build a Raised Garden Bed with Timber Railway Sleepers


Can you cut railway sleepers? 

To get the best cut on a railway sleeper you need to make small straight cuts with either a circular saw or a chainsaw. This can be easy to do to make sure that they fit together nicely to make flower beds. Cutting a treated softwood sleeper however will expose the untreated centre of it, meaning a coat of wood preservative would be recommended on the exposed ends.

How do I fix railway sleepers together?

Railway sleepers are known to shrink over time so securing them tight is very important. The best thing to use are railway sleeper specific screws. These may need to be changed over a few years to keep them as secure as possible.

What railway sleepers do you supply?

We can supply our sleepers both individually and as a pallet.  You can find the links to our sleepers and accessories below:

1.2m x 200mm x 100mm Green Treated Softwood Sleepers
2.4m x 200mm x 100mm Green Treated Softwood Sleepers
2.4m x 240mm x 120mm Green Treated Softwood Sleepers
2.4m x 200mm x 100mm Brown Treated Softwood Sleepers
2.4m x 200mm x 100mm Charred Brushwood Sleepers
2.4m x 200mm x 100mm Premium Hardwood Oak Sleepers
Timber Sleeper Screws - 150mm and 250mm
Timco Magnetic Hex Socket Driver Bit 8mm

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