How to Build a Wooden Retaining Wall

Updated February 21, 2017

A retaining wall is a structure that can be used to create a raised garden bed or terrace in your yard, or placed at the bottom of a hill to prevent soil from eroding. Retaining walls are usually made of stone or wood. If you're building a wooden wall, using sleepers is an option. The sleepers are bolted into the ground with rebar to provide a firm grip.

Spray paint a line on the ground to mark the line of the retaining wall.

Dig a trench 16 inches wide and 12 inches deep. Level out the soil in the bottom of the trench.

Fill the trench with 6 inches of gravel and tamp the gravel down to form a firm base.

Measure and cut the ties to fit the wall with a circular saw. Drill holes in the sleepers for the rebar that measure 9/16 inch.

Apply wood preservative to the ends of the sleepers with a foam brush where you cut them.

Lay the first tie into the trench and check it for level. If you need to level it out, place a wooden block on top of the tie and tap down on it with a hammer.

Drive 2-foot-long pieces of rebar into the ground through the holes in the tie with a sledgehammer.

Place the second tie in the trench next to the first one. Place the level across the top of both ties and hammer down the second tie to even it out if necessary. Continue installing ties until the first course is complete.

Lay drain tile onto the gravel behind the ties with the holes facing down. Drain tile is perforated plastic pipe used for drainage.

Lay the second course of sleepers on top of the first course. Stagger the ties in the second course from the ties in the first course to strengthen the wall. Drive 12-inch landscaping screws through the second course into the first course with an impact driver, placing them about 2 feet from each joint. Install a third row of ties using the same process.

Cover the drain tile with gravel until it matches the height of the sleepers, then lay landscaping fabric over the gravel.

Cut 2-foot-long section of sleepers to be the deadmen, drilling a hole for the rebar about 6 inches in from one end. A deadman is a tie that runs perpendicular to the wall and runs into the ground behind the wall to act as an anchor. Place the deadmen on top of the wall every 4 to 6 feet, positioning them so one end is flush with the front of the wall. Attach the front end of the deadmen to the timbers with the 12-inch landscaping screws, and drive rebar through the hole in the back end into the ground.

Continue to build the wall, installing timbers around the deadmen.

Fill the space behind the wall with dirt.


Wear safety goggles when sawing the wood.

Things You'll Need

  • Spray paint
  • Shovel
  • Rake
  • Gravel
  • Tamp
  • Tape measure
  • Sleepers
  • Circular saw
  • Safety goggles
  • Drill
  • 9/16-inch drill bit
  • Wood preservative
  • Foam brush
  • Level
  • Wooden block
  • Hammer
  • 2-foot-long rebar
  • Sledgehammer
  • Drain tile
  • 12-inch landscaping screws
  • Impact driver
  • Landscaping fabric
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About the Author

Carson Barrett began writing professionally in 2009. He has been published on various websites. Barrett is currently attending Bucks County Community College, pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in sports management.