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What Sleepers To Use For Raised Beds?

Raised garden beds made from sleepers look amazing, but which type of sleeper should you use for them? Hardwood? Softwood? Maybe even reclaimed?

Why You Shouldn’t Use Reclaimed Sleepers

While they look amazing and are pretty much guaranteed to last decades you shouldn’t use reclaimed railways sleepers for raised beds.

The reason for this is fairly simple. Reclaimed sleepers were treated with some pretty nasty chemicals when they were first laid down.

You don’t want these chemicals getting into your soil, particularly if you are growing veg. Even if the bed will just be for flowers though you still don’t want these nasties getting into your soil.

Softwood or Hardwood

So now that we have established that reclaimed shouldn’t be used your options have been trimmed.

You are basically left with two choices, should you use hardwood or softwood sleepers for your raised beds?

Softwood sleepers will be cheaper, easier to manoeuvre and easier to work with than their hardwood brothers.

On the other hand, hardwood sleepers look better and last longer than softwood sleepers.

Softwood sleepers will last around 10-15 years in soil without added protection. Whereas with hardwood sleepers you are looking at more like 30-40 years of life.

Sawing and Drilling

There is a big difference in both sawing and drilling into a hardwood like oak (which is what a lot of sleepers will be) when compared to softwood.

As I talked about in my how to cut sleepers article it is perfectly possible to cut softwood sleepers with a handsaw. This will still be possible with hardwood but will just be a lot harder and slower.

This is definitely something to think about when making your sleeper decision. Softwood sleepers will be a lot easier to work with and build with. This is especially important for a DIYer who may not have the top of the range tools required to slice through oak sleepers.

Step 4 - Keep Sawing!
Sawing a softwood sleeper by hand

Appearance

There’s no doubt that hardwood sleepers, particularly oak, look a lot nicer than softwood sleepers. In my opinion, they also age better, maturing nicely with the passing years.

Again this is another factor to consider in your decision. And this is your decision, there are pros and cons to both hardwood and softwood sleepers so you need to make the choice that is right for you.

Weight

A regular softwood sleeper is heavy enough, but hardwood sleepers take this to a whole new level.

You definitely need to consider this as part of your decision-making process. you can lift and manoeuvre a softwood sleeper by yourself, this is probably not the case for hardwood sleepers unless you are a bit of a wannabe strongman.

Preservation

As I alluded to earlier, hardwood sleepers like oak last a lot longer than softwood. That is not to say softwood sleepers don’t hang around for a long time.

You can expect a softwood raised bed to last for 10-15 years.

Oak sleepers will last more like 30-40 years.

So again, another factor to consider. But I don’t think this is quite as clear cut of an advantage as it seems. I mean not many people will be planning their garden this far in advance.

If you decide down the line to remodel your garden and get rid of the raised beds then it really doesn’t matter that they might have another 15 years of life in them.

If you are sure these beds will be there for a long long time then yeah, this is a real advantage for hardwood sleepers.

Related Reading

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