A Step-by-Step on Retaining Walls

Retaining walls are useful for preventing soil erosion around your home. Retaining walls can also be used to create terrace-style gardens and polished landscaping. Whether the retaining wall's main purpose is functional or decorative, several things must be taken into consideration before you begin building. Water drainage, soil type, and wall length and height are all factors. Retaining walls can be made of manufactured segments, rock, stone or other natural materials. A simple, sturdy retaining wall made of old railroad ties is effective and easy to install.

Retaining walls keep soil in place.
  1. Determine how long the retaining wall needs to be. Mark the measurement with a stick or another easily recognizable object.
  2. Use a Bobcat or other earth-moving equipment to remove soil from the area in front of where the wall will be put up. Remove enough soil to create a level surface in front of the retaining wall. Pile the soil a short distance behind the wall site.
  3. Use a level to check for an even surface, using a shovel to remove high spots if neccessary.
  4. Place railroad ties end to end to the desired length of your retaining wall. If necessary, cut extra length off the end of the railroad ties.
  5. Drill a hole in this first layer of railroad ties every 1 foot.
  6. Place a layer of railroad ties on top of the first; lay the first tie with the edge about 1 foot in from the edge of the lower tie, creating a staggered effect. When the second layer of railroad ties reaches the end of the first layer, cut the last tie so that the end is 1 foot in from the end of the bottom row. Each end of the second row should be 1 foot shorter than the first row.
  7. Drill holes every 1 foot in the top row of railroad ties, making sure the holes line up with the holes in the lower tie.
  8. Repeat Steps 4 through 7 until the wall is tall enough for your specifications.
  9. Insert rebar into the drilled holes and pound the rebar into the ground with a mallet. Rebar should be embedded into the ground to a depth of 1 foot for every 1 foot above ground.
  10. Place a 6-inch layer of class 5 gravel along the back of the wall to create drain tile. This helps water to drain properly along the wall in order to avoid subsurface erosion and maintain structural integrity.
  11. Pile the dirt that was originally removed from the site against the back of the wall.

Things You Will Need

  • Railroad ties
  • Rebar
  • Chainsaw
  • Tape measure
  • 4-foot level
  • Drill
  • 6-inch wood drill bit
  • Mallet
  • Class 5 gravel
  • Shovel
  • Bobcat


  • Drive the Bobcat or similar equipment back and forth over the soil surface where the retaining wall will be to pack the soil down firmly.
  • Stack paver stones up along the inside of the wall for a more polished, modern appearance.


  • Do not skip the drain tile. Water must be able to flow away from the wall to retain maximum strength.
  • It is not advisable to attempt construction of a retaining wall over 3 feet high without professional consultation.

About the Author

Lisabeth Hughes holds an Associate of Fine Arts from Minnesota State Community and Technical College with a Bachelor of Arts in progress at Prescott College. Hughes began writing professionally as an assistant at First Rate Freelance in 1995. In 2009 she began to submit her own work and has now published numerous articles on various websites and in "Kush" magazine and two poetry anthologies.

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