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David Watkinson's railway sleeper steps & retaining wall

  • David Watkinson's railway sleeper steps & retaining wall
  • David Watkinson's railway sleeper steps & retaining wall

Dear Kilgraney,
A few months ago I got some Azobe sleepers from you that were to be used to create some steps and retaining walls. I don't have any before photo's but you are welcome to put the attached on your website.

I found that a 9" circular saw (Makita) was ideal for cutting the sleepers. This has a 3" cutting depth, so I had to flip the sleepers over to finish each cut, but I ended up with pretty neat cuts after a bit of practise. I did end up having to do some cuts by hand - this took around 5-10 mins with a sharp saw.

The sleepers were overlapped to bond together both vertically in two dimensions and also perpendicularly in the 3rd, e.g. where the riser of one step meets the retaining wall adjacent at right angles. I planned the layout on paper first, partly to minimise cuts and partly to work out how many sleepers I needed, though I had to change this because 4 steps per flight turned out too narrow, so I went to 3. Each riser is 1 sleeper high, which makes it nice and easy for the children (2 under 7) The sections were then pinned with 12mm reinforcing rod (available in 6m lengths from Travis Perkins etc). My drill found it hard going drilling through the Azobe (and eventually burned out!) and I had to drill an 11mm hole first, then enlarge with a 13mm drill bit to give the drill a chance. The weight of the sleepers, plus the pinning, made the steps rock solid. The first level of sleepers were pinned into the soil below with about 12" protruding, but from then on I used about 9" of rod to pin together 2 x 6" thick sleepers together (countersinking the top of the rod below the level of the top sleeper). Then I filled in the tread part of each step with stone flags flush with the top of the sleepers.

The Azobe sleepers have a lovely reddish brown colour and nice 'distressed' texture. The steps are sat on from time to time by my children and there have been one or two splinters, but nothing major. There's certainly been no seepage. My wife was sceptical at first because she couldn't easily visualise what I was planning, but she's as thrilled as I am with the way they look and the way they've blended in with some stone walls I've built for the adjacent patio.
David Watkinson

RailwaySleepers.com Says..

Many thanks for such a comprehensive account of your impressive handiwork. You've created a compact, imaginatively designed flight of steps that look excellent. Send us some more pictures (with less sun !)