Can You Build A Retaining Wall Out of Sleepers?

By Sam Wood •  Updated: 10/11/21 

Sleepers are a great way of building steps in the garden, but can you use them to build a retaining wall?

The good news is that yes, you can use sleepers for a retaining wall. This is actually a really common use for sleepers. They are chosen because of the ease of building and the aesthetics they deliver.

Above you can see a great example of a simple, sleeper based retaining wall.

Why Use Sleepers?

Well, to start with building a retaining wall out of sleepers will be both quicker and easier than using bricks!

Most competent DIY’ers would feel comfortable tackling this job as it only requires basic joinery skills. While the same cannot be said for laying an entire wall, brick by brick.

Then there is the speed of construction. As each sleeper is so large, it doesn’t take long for the wall to take shape. Lay three or four sleepers on top of each other and you have a 3ft wall already.

How to Build The Wall

So you now know that you can build a retaining wall out of sleepers, but how do you do it?

One of the most common ways you will see a retaining sleeper wall built is using the post and bolts method. With this, there will be several posts behind the wall anchored into the ground. The sleepers are then bolted into these posts from the front.

The posts are normally anchored into the ground like you would with fence posts. So a large hole is dug and then the posts are concreted into the ground. often using postcrete.

Commonly a membrane will be laid against the back of the sleepers. This is to help keep water off the sleepers to stop them from quickly rotting.

A layer of gravel is also usually laid behind the sleepers to stop water from sitting.

Posts Front or Back

You can have the support posts either in front of or behind the wall. If you go with the posts in front then this will be stronger, the downside is it doesn’t look as clean.

This method is stronger as the sleepers will be pushed into the posts by the weight of the soil behind. If you attach the boards behind then all the weight is trying to push the sleepers away from the posts. This will increase the strain on your fixings as they are the only thing keeping the wall together.

With that said, as long as you are not building a high wall then the post behind method is plenty strong enough.

Related Reading

If you are thinking of building with sleepers then you might find these posts interesting.

Sam Wood

Wood by name, wood by nature. I am a fully qualified, time-served, award-winning joiner with an NVQ Level 3 in Carpentry and Joinery as well as an HNC in Construction. Beyond my joinery qualifications, I have also earned a degree in building surveying. I believe these qualifications make me perfectly positioned to provide expert advice on many different areas of DIY as well as share all of the tips I have picked up in over a decade working on building sites!