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Are Sleepers Softwood or Hardwood?

So you want to know whether sleepers are hardwood or softwood? well, let’s have a look.

The simple answer is sleepers can be hardwood or softwood. Genuine reclaimed railway sleepers will be hardwood. They are usually made from oak but can be other hardwoods but oak is the most common.

Softwood Sleepers

Softwood sleepers are probably the more common sleeper to see in gardens. They are used for everything from stairs to retaining walls.

Side View
Steps made from softwood sleepers

Softwood sleepers tend to be tanalised. This is the process of pressure treating them to help them last longer.

Because of this they often have a yellow/green colour when they are brand new. This silvers overtime before eventually going brown.

Hardwood Sleepers

Hardwood sleepers are usually oak. Reclaimed railway sleepers will always be hardwood.

Often hardwood sleepers come untreated. The simple reason for this is that they don’t need to be treated. Even untreated a hardwood sleeper can easily last for 35-40 years.

Working With Hardwood and Softwood Sleepers

Hardwood is a lot stronger than softwood. This strength obviously has massive advantages, but it also comes with drawbacks.

Hardwood sleepers are a lot harder to work with than softwood sleepers. The fact that the wood is just a lot harder and denser makes things tougher.

To start with they are much heavier. What this means is that simply carrying them is going to be tough. Getting them into position is going to be tough. Lifting them up so you can saw them is going to be tough.

If you try to do this on your own with hardwood sleepers then you are going to be tired, and quickly. With softwood sleepers, you can do this on your own all day long. With hardwood, you really need a buddy.

Beyond just carting them into place hardwood sleepers will be a lot harder to just simply cut than softwood sleepers.

I talk about cutting softwood sleepers here, and in particular, I talk about how easy they are to simply cut with a handsaw. This isn’t the same with hardwood sleepers.

To cut a hardwood sleeper by hand will take a lot of effort. I’m not saying it’s not possible, but it is definitely hardwood.

even going past handsaws, circular saws will struggle with hardwood sleepers. You need high-level professional equipment. If you are a DIY’er you might not have the right gear, this again is something to bear in mind.

Just simply drilling with be tougher with hardwood. you will need a good sharp drill bit and a high power drill.

Related Reading

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