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How to build a sleeper wall

Sleeper walls are nothing new, but they have grown in popularity over the past few years.
And it’s no surprise. As well as being a cheaper alternative to brick, sleepers are an excellent way of subtly adding some rustic charm to your garden space.

There’s a lot of flexibility as to how sleeper walls can be used around your garden. You could build a striking external feature wall that provides the perfect spot for climbing plants to grow or use sleeper walls solely for functional purposes. They can be integrated as a stand-alone structure, positioned around flower beds or lawns or used for retaining purposes.

retaining wall made from sleepers

The benefits of using sleepers to build a wall

As a strong and durable material that’s ideal for support and strengthening purposes, sleepers are the perfect material for building attractive garden walls.

Just like any brick or stone wall, they’ll last for years to come when built well. Aside from annual treatment and clearing of moss and weeds, they require little maintenance and look great all year round.

Because of the variety of sleepers available, you’ve also got a great deal of choice on the aesthetic appearance of the sleeper wall you’d like to create. Choose from Tropical Hardwood, French Oak and Treated Softwood Sleepers. Sleepers can be cut, shaped and stacked to achieve your desired finish and height.

How do you build a sleeper wall?

There are two main methods for building sleeper walls. It all comes down to how the sleepers are used. You can create a horizontal sleeper wall or vertical sleeper wall.

The first method involves laying sleepers horizontally, widest side down. Sleepers are then stacked on top of one another and fixed together using coach screws and stainless steel screws. With this approach, you can achieve a strong, straight sleeper wall to the height that you desire.

The second method sees sleepers being used vertically. Sleepers can be cut to various lengths and slotted into the ground on a vertical angle. Placing sleepers next to each other will create a wall, giving you the option to create a straight or curved wall when angling each sleeper slightly.

We’re going to give you a quick rundown of how you can achieve both styles of sleeper wall in your garden. You don’t need to be an expert to achieve a strong and attractive wall. It’s pretty easy to do with a little know-how and the right tools for the job.

How to build a horizontal sleeper wall

horizontal sleeper wall

Image source: http://www.paspittles.com

Materials:

Tools:

  • String line
  • Wooden pegs
  • Shovel
  • Panel saw
  • Drill

Step 1: Measure and mark out the area

The length of the wall will depend entirely on your own preference and the available garden space.

1

Use a tape measure to measure out the desired length of your sleeper wall.

2

Mark out the area using string line and pegs. This will help to ensure that your wall is straight.

Step 2: Create the foundations

You need to create a flat and free-draining foundation. Although sleepers are durable, heavy-duty pieces of timber, like any natural wood product, constant exposure to ground moisture will damage the sleeper, resulting in an unstable sleeper wall.

1

Use a shovel to dig a trench that is 400mm wider than the width of your sleepers and double the depth of your sleepers, along the length of your marked out area.

2

Take your scalpings and pour them into the trench to a depth of roughly 500mm.

3

Smooth the surface out with your shovel until it is even.

4

Mix your cement as per the manufacturer’s instruction, and pour the wet cement into the trench, filling it to roughly 500mm.

Important: The taller the wall, the deeper the foundations need to be. Work on the rule of thumb; one third in the ground, two thirds out.

Step 3: Lay the base sleeper

1

Before the concrete sets, take one of your sleepers and at each end of the sleeper, drive a coach screw through the flattest, widest side, to the other side of the sleeper.

2

Place the sleeper in the trench, on its flattest, widest side, with the coach screws facing downwards so that they penetrate the concrete.

3

Use a spirit level to check the base is flat. Make changes accordingly before the concrete sets.

4

Use as many sleepers as you need to repeat this along the entire length of the trench.

Top tip: leave a small 100mm gap between each adjoining sleeper on the base level to allow for any movement of expansion on the sleepers.

Step 4: Stack the sleepers and fix into place

You can stack the sleepers in pretty much any way you want. It’s just important to overlap joists in a brick-effect style so that you create a strong, interlocking structure. You may choose to cut your sleepers up into smaller, even-sized blocks. Alternatively, you could cut the sleepers to different lengths to create more of a brick-a-brack effect.

1

Stack the sleepers on top of the base sleeper.

2

Ensure that you’re happy with the alignment of the sleeper with the base sleeper – you want the edges of each sleeper to be flush with each other.

3

Then, tack the sleepers together by driving stainless steel screws through the top of each sleeper into the sleeper that it’s placed on top of.

4

Space screws roughly 500mm apart to secure the two sleepers together securely.

5

Continue the process of stacking and screwing the sleepers on top of one another, overlapping joist gaps as you go along until you’ve achieved the desired wall height.

Tip: If you’re building a taller wall or a wall that will be retaining pressure from soil, you may need to support the back of the wall with vertical wooden or metal posts. This will stop the wall from leaning forward.

Simply dig a hole that is a third of the length of the support post where you wish to position each post. Then, place the post into the hole, screw the post to the sleeper wall and fill the hole with cement and shingle to further secure it into place.

Step 5: Finish touches

Once your sleeper wall structure is finished, you can add your own finishing touches.

1

Backfill any gaps between the wall and the ground with scalpels or 10mm shingle chippings. This will support the drainage around the wall.

2

You may wish to treat, paint or sand down your sleepers to achieve a planed finish.

How to build a vertical sleeper wall

vertical sleeper wall

Image source: https://www.longacreslandscape.co.uk

Materials:

Tools:

  • String line
  • Wooden pegs
  • Shovel
  • Panel saw
  • Drill
  • Metal strips or lengths of wood

Step 1: Measure and mark out the area

Decide where you want to put your upright sleeper wall, and whether you want to create a straight or curved wall.

1

Use a tape measure to measure out the desired length of your sleeper wall.

2

Mark out the area using string line and pegs. If you are creating a curved wall, you might need a few more pegs to mark out how and where you want the wall to curve.

Step 2: Cut your sleepers to length

An upright sleeper wall can be as tall or as shallow as you want it to be. You can even mix it up and create a wall that slopes in height or varies in height all the way along.

1

Work out how many sleepers you’ll need to create the length of your wall.

2

Measure the width of the sleeper and divide the desired wall length by this figure to find out how many sleepers you’ll need.

3

Use a panel saw to cut your sleepers to the desired wall height and set them aside.

Important: Treat freshly cut sleeper ends with wood end preserver.

Step 3: Create the foundations

You need to create a free-draining trench that your upright sleepers will be lowered into.

1

Guided by your string line, use a shovel to dig a trench.

2

The depth of the trench should be a third of the depth of your longest sleeper length, plus 500mm.

3

Pour the scalpings into the trench to a depth of roughly 500mm.

4

Smooth the surface out with your shovel until it is even.

Step 4: Lower the sleepers in

Now your foundations are set, you can start to position your sleepers

1

Lower the sleepers vertically and position each sleeper side by side. If you’re creating a curved wall, you will need to angle each sleeper slightly until you’ve achieved the curved effect.

2

Once you’re happy with the positioning and look of the wall, pour in a dry cement mix.

3

Use a hose or a buck to add water to the cement in the trench, as per the manufacturer’s instructions.

4

You can make further changes to the position of each sleeper if needs be, whilst the cement is dry.

Step 5: Finishing touches

You may wish to reinforce the strength of the wall or enhance the moisture drainage around the wall.

1

To strengthen the wall, you can connect the back of the sleepers together using PAR treated timber on a straight wall. Use metal strips or wire to reinforce a curved wall.

2

Backfill the wall with shingle or scalpings to encourage water to drain away from the wall.

3

You can also paint, treat or sand down the sleepers if you want to achieve a planed finish.

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