How do you fix sleepers to the ground?

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Sleepers are a type of construction material that is used mainly to bear the pressure and stress from heavier materials while also keeping the structure maintain its rigidity. Back in the earlier years, sleepers are often used in railways, as they are very effective in gripping the rail and helps the rail keeps its shape, line, and level. 

Although sleepers are still being used in railways in the present, many contractors, engineers, and architects found other ways to utilize sleepers. In fact, they are now being used in a variety of projects, especially in gardening and landscaping

How are sleepers placed into the ground?





For a sleeper to be able to do the specific function it needs to perform, it will usually need to be installed to the ground or soil. By doing so, the sleeper will receive support from the ground which can act as its anchor, if done properly.

Sleepers are installed differently depending on how they will be used.

Placing sleepers into the ground to make a retaining wall

One of the most creative and efficient uses of railway sleepers is by making them a retaining wall. Retaining walls are structures that are built to support and retain soil or water into a specific area, making it more resistant to erosion.

There are two popular ways to do this: using sleepers in a horizontal manner and a vertical manner. 

How to place sleepers into the ground in a horizontal or vertical way

Tools you will need



Spirit Level

Nails and Screws



Protective Gear (mask, gloves, goggles)

Spray paint or chalk (optional)

Sand, gravel, concrete mix (optional)


Step 1: Make sure that the ground you want to place your sleepers are firm and level. You can do this by using a spirit level.

When the ground is firm and level, placing sleepers will be more convenient and easy. Most contractors do this by placing gravel, sand, or making a concrete foundation. If the ground is too soft, professionals amend this by backfilling the area with a dry concrete mix. Before starting the project, you might want to wear protective gear such as gloves, glasses, and mask for your safety.

Step 2: Mark the area where you will build your retaining wall

This can be done by using a spray paint or chalk. Marking is very important as this can help you determine whether the structure you will build is straight or curved, depending on what you want it to be. 

Step 3: Measure your ideal retaining wall height

Measuring the height of what you want your retaining wall before digging into the ground is very helpful, as it is recommended to make a third of the height you want to make your wall as a trench where the sleepers will be laid into. 

For example, if you want your wall to have a height of 500 meters, you will need to dig around 160 meters for your sleeper’s base, which would mean that the total height of the retaining wall would be around 660 meters. If you need to cut your sleepers to be at a certain length and width, you can do this using a saw. 

Step 4: Dig out a trench

Dig out the trench according to the height you measured using your shovel. If you find that the lower parts of your ground are too soft, you can add gravel, sand, or concrete as you go. Make sure that you are following the marked area you have made earlier, as you would not want your structure to be crooked later on. 

Step 5: Place your sleeper base

Lay your sleepers inside the trench that you have dug. The base will serve as the foundation of your retaining wall, which is why it is very important to make it as secure, level, and rigid as you can. To make sure that the sleepers are stable, you can put screws, and nails in between the sleepers. 

Step 6: Continue placing your sleeper horizontally or vertically

Place your sleepers one by one in a horizontal or vertical manner and continue securing them with your hammer, nails, or screws. Stack them next to each other until you have achieved your desired length. 

Step 7: Finish the retaining wall

Once you are done stacking your sleepers, you can now use your retaining wall. The most common way people use retaining walls that are made of railway sleepers is in gardening and in some small landscaping projects. 

Placing sleepers into the ground to make a garden planter

Aside from building retaining walls, what once was only used as railway sleepers can also be effectively used as garden planters for your backyard. Not only is this method cost-effective, using sleepers is a very attractive alternative as well instead of using garden pots that can be unpleasant to look at. 

Tools you will need



Nails and Screws



Protective Gear (mask, gloves, goggles)

Spray paint or chalk (optional)

Sand, gravel, concrete mix (optional)



Step 1: Decide where you would want your planters

Before starting the project, you should absolutely be sure of the location where you would want your garden planters to be. After all, once they are made, you would not want to decide to move them to another location, rendering the time, money, and effort you have spent on it useless. Mark the area using a spray paint or chalk for it to be visible. 

Step 2: Dig out a trench

Dig out a trench for your sleepers to be placed using a shovel. Because a base will be needed to ensure that your planters will be stable and durable in the long run, it is recommended to at least dig out a third of the height of your desired sleeper. For example, if you have enough sleepers to reach around 200 meters, dig a trench that is around 60 meters for your base. Make sure that you are wearing protective gear such as a mask and gloves for your safety.

Step 3: Fill the trench with sand or concrete

When you want your planters to be stable, it is recommended to pour a concrete mix that is semi-dry into the trench you have dug for maximum strength and protection against movement. If your soil is not that soft, you can use cheaper options such as sand and gravel instead. 

Step 4: Cut your sleepers

If you have not cut your sleepers yet, you can do this using a saw. Make sure that you have already measured the sleepers’ length and width that will fit into your trench. 

Step 5: Place your sleepers

Place the base of your sleeper inside the trench. Use your hammer to put them into the layout that you want. You can also use nails and hooks in between the sleepers to keep them secure, and brackets to connect the corners. Stack the sleepers horizontally or vertically until you have reached your desired height.

Step 6: Beautify your sleepers

Depending on the material you used for your sleeper, you might want to sand or paint it to make your garden planters more attractive. Make sure that the paint you are using is compatible with the material of your sleeper. 

Step 7: Fill in with soil

Once you are done with sanding or painting your planters, it is now time to fill in with soil or stones, depending on your project. 

What you need to know before placing sleepers





There is a reason why placing sleepers are a job for the professional contractors. This is because there can be many problems that will arise if the sleepers are not done correctly. 

Some of the things that can happen in DIY projects are the following:

There is a possibility of sleeper failure

When homeowners do the placement of their sleeper themselves, it would be possible for it to fail due to several reasons, such as the wrong material used, incorrect placing method done, and other causes that can be traced due to the lack of knowledge and expertise. This can be avoided in the first place by hiring a contractor with years of training and experience. 

There is a possibility of having drainage problems

Problems may arise once the sleepers are placed without taking drainage into account. In cases where there is no way for water and moisture to seep through, it is possible for the structure to fail in just a couple of months and years as it will be too heavy for the sleeper to support. This happens mainly when the sleeper is used as a retaining wall. Also, if there is no path available for the moisture to be drained, the material used for your sleeper may rust or rot.

There is a possibility of accidents to happen

Experts are there to help for a reason. It is often said time and time again to not scrimp money when it comes to building and construction, as it will often be more expensive to repair or even rebuild later on. In this particular case, when a sleeper is not placed properly, it will be possible for it to fall without warning. This can be very dangerous for other people and properties that are near the area. This headache can be avoided by getting a professional to do the project themselves, especially if it is large in scale, such as taller retaining walls. Most states in the U.S. require permits and contractors to do the major jobs for this specific reason. 

What are the different types of sleepers?

Wooden Sleepers

Wooden sleepers are very popular as they can easily be accessed and are very cheap in price compared to other types. Wood is also very adaptive and can be used in a variety of projects, although it is flammable and can be infested with pests. 

Concrete Sleepers

Concrete sleepers are fire-resistant and are often expected to last longer compared to wood. Sleepers that are made of concrete are known to be the most adaptive as they can be placed in any soil due to the reason that they are not often affected by pests and corrosion. Some drawbacks that can come with using concrete sleepers is that it can be hard to use and are heavy to transport.

Steel Sleepers

Steel sleepers are often used in commercial and industrial projects that require the highest support and durability. Aside from their high life span of around 30 years, they are easy to transport and are very convenient to place and install. One of the cons of using steel is that maintenance should be more frequent and expensive. 

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