How to Build a Retaining Wall With Railroad Ties

A retaining wall makes a nice decorative feature in any backyard. Many retaining walls are strictly for cosmetic purposes, to support new landscaping or to prevent your hillside from sliding. Railroad ties make the perfect building material for retaining walls. They are easy to install, and if you get salvaged railroad ties, you are being kind to the environment by using recycled products.

  1. Check local regulations to determine if you need a permit to build a retaining wall. Obtain a permit if necessary.

  2. Design your retaining wall. Determine how long you want it and where you want it. Also, choose what size, shape and grade of railroad ties you want. Consider salvaged railroad ties for a rustic look that is environmentally friendly.

  3. Dig your trenches 6 inches deep and 9 inches wide. You need at least 8 inches for the drainpipe and gravel. Dig T-shaped trenches for your deadmans--the T-shaped support beams tied to the wall and buried in the soil. Install one for every 16 square feet of retaining wall.

  4. Spread 2 inches of gravel in the trench. For soggy conditions, use more gravel.

  5. Lay the first course of railroad ties. Keep them level, but have them lean slightly in to the hill. For added bonding, apply construction adhesive between courses.

  6. Place the second course on and attach it to the first course with spikes every 3 to 4 feet. Use a small sledgehammer to hammer in the 12-inch spikes.

  7. Add the third course, and install deadmans as needed.

  8. Install your drainage pipe once you finish the wall. Place it on the gravel bed behind the wall, and back-fill with gravel up to the second course. Then cover the gravel with filter fabric or tar paper, and back-fill with soil.


  • Don't skip out on the drainpipe. Failure to install proper drainage will result in the wall buckling.

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