How to build stairs with railroad ties

Written by tracy morris
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How to build stairs with railroad ties
Sleepers are sturdy enough to make garden stairs. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Sleepers are designed to take a beating. The ties are made from hardwood that has been soaked in preservative and dried to prevent rot. These ties are sturdy enough that they may be recycled into landscaping projects such as raised beds and stairs. When choosing sleepers to construct stairs, choose ones that have had most of their preservative leached away. Sleepers use creosote as a preservative. The creosote can harm plants if it is absorbed into the soil.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Bubble level
  • Stake
  • String
  • Wooden pole
  • Mallet
  • Shovel
  • Landscape timbers
  • Hand saw
  • Circular saw
  • Paintbrush
  • Wood preservative
  • 4 3/4-inch rebar rod, 3 feet long
  • Drill
  • 3/4 drill bit
  • Screw driver head
  • Timber screws
  • Pea gravel

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  1. 1

    Drive a stake into the hillside at the top of your future staircase. Tie a string to the bottom of the stake where it enters the ground. Hang a carpenter's bubble level from the string. Hold a wooden pole at the base of your proposed staircase. Pull the string directly out to the pole so that the bubble level is completely level. Mark the point on the pole where the string touches it. Measure from the bottom of the pole to the mark. This is how tall your timber staircase will be. Divide this number by the size of the sleepers. Sleepers are 7 inches tall. This is how many steps your staircase will have. For example, a hillside that is 49 inches tall will have 7 steps.

  2. 2

    Remove the soil from the hillside where the stairs will be built. Dig two trenches that are 7 inches deep below the base level of the staircase. These trenches should extend back the length of the staircase and should be perpendicular to the run of the hillside.

  3. 3

    Cut two sleepers so that they are a length equal to the run of the staircase by running a circular saw all the way around the ties. Finish the cut with a hand saw. Paint the ends of each tie when you cut it. Lay each landscaping timber into the perpendicular trenches to create sleepers. The sleepers will support the weight of the staircase. Drill a 3/4-inch hole into each end of each timber. Drive 3/4-inch rebar rods all the way into the ground through the holes in the timbers to secure them.

  4. 4

    Cut two pieces of sleeper to the width of the staircase. Stack them at the ends of the sleepers to create the first step. Screw timber screws through the ties and into the sleepers to secure them. A single tie is 9 inches wide, which is not a comfortable width for a tread. Instead, by using two 9-inch ties, you can create a comfortable step. Cut two more ties for sleepers that are 18 inches shorter than the first two sleepers. Stack these over the first two sleepers at the end of the first two steps. Secure the second tier of sleepers to the first sleepers using timber screws.

  5. 5

    Fill in the space between the sleepers behind the steps with pea gravel up to the top level of the first treads. Continue to build your steps this way until you reach the top of the staircase. Fill in the space between the stairs and the dirt hillside with soil.

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