Landscaping your yard is a source of pride for many people. If your house is on a hill, or your yard has a drop-off or slope to it, a retaining wall can add style and function to your overall look. There are various types of retaining walls that can be built by either professional landscaping companies, very expensive, or done yourself. Using railroad ties as a retaining wall is a popular method for achieving the desired look for your yard.
The first thing as a homeowner you should do is get the thought of going down to the railroad tracks and taking a few of the extra ties they have lying around. Not only is this practice frowned upon by railroad companies in general, it is also trespassing and felony theft. On top of those two little instances, some of the old railroad ties are treated with arsenic to withstand the test of time and the elements. Arsenic seeps from the railroad ties into the surrounding ground, you do not want that on your property.
Now, going online and goggling: railroad ties, will bring you to a few companies that sell them for landscaping purposes, you order, they deliver. Railroad ties are quite heavy and can come up to 17 feet in length. It would be wise to also have a chainsaw available to use to cut your ties into the right length.
Now before you start hacking away at your railroad ties, go out to the area you are going to work on. The railroad ties are not going to it on the bare ground. You are going to need to dig into the ground about two inches and put down a layer of stone. The stone will have to be leveled to ensure that your wall remains level. Besides leveling your wall, the stone will act as a cushion against settling.
After laying your stone, you will have to put some markers in the ground to give yourself a point of reference for your bottom ties. The markers can be anything that will hold the shape of your wall. Do not forget to put a marker at the very ends of your wall for measuring purposes.
You are going to need a few tools and supplies to complete this job. These tools can be found at your local Lowes, Home Depot, Ace Hardware or whatever hardware big box is near you. You will need:
1 or 2 8 foot pieces of Rebar (depending on the size of the project)
Grinder with metal cutting wheel
Large Drill with foot long drill bit
Sledge hammer (1 handed)
A ton of stone (cheap kind, not decorative)
Now once you cut your first railroad ties for your base, you will want to drill holes approximately ever foot through the railroad tie, all the way through. Putting the cut ties into place, the drilled holes will be from top to bottom. Cut a piece of rebar approximately two feet in length. The holes drilled should not be larger than the rebar. You will have to drive the rebar into the hole all the way until it is flush, or even, with the top of the tie. This rebar will act as an anchor for your bottom row, connecting it with the ground below it. Repeat these steps for each railroad tie on the base.
Each row above the base should be staggered to the ties below it. This means the middle should be over where the two ties below meet. Using stone to back fill the ties will help strengthen the entire project and assist with any potential drainage issues.
Continuing these steps until your retaining wall is finished. You can tie all your railroad ties together using various different means. Nails, rebar or L-brackets all work very well. This project is a large one, take your time and use caution when handling the various tools. If any problems arise, seek the advice of a professional. Nothing ruins a project worse than being half finished or injury.