Railway Sleepers in Your Garden

Reclaimed railway sleepers: what you need to know

People have been using reclaimed railway sleepers for years, in a variety of landscaping, building and furniture projects. Reclaimed sleepers have a lovely weathered appearance which is great for projects that need a rustic look.

You may be aware that there’s legislation around using sleepers that have been treated with creosote. While it’s true there are restrictions, it’s not as scary as it sounds. Here’s what you need to know before you buy:

Creosoted railway sleepers aren’t illegal – but their use is restricted.

In the early 2000s, scientists found that prolonged exposure to creosote – a chemical substance used on sleepers and various other wooden products – carried certain health risks. As a result, new sleepers are no longer treated with creosote, and uses of reclaimed sleepers are now a bit more restricted. That’s because in certain circumstances, such as very hot weather, creosote can ‘leech’ out of wood in a tar like surface, and it’s not advisable to get it on your skin, hands or food.

So what are the restrictions on creosoted sleepers?

Put simply, you can’t use creosoted timber for any surfaces that people will sit on, lean on or eat off. So picnic tables, furniture, leisure and play apparatus and children’s play areas are a no-no. You also can’t use them for indoor projects. But any use where people aren’t going to sit, lean or eat will be fine.

Reclaimed, creosoted sleepers still have a lot of uses

While you wouldn’t want your kids to eat their lunch on them, creosoted sleepers are a really durable and versatile option for a lot of projects. If you have a landscaping project, a raised bed to build or a border to smarten up, our reclaimed sleepers are a great option.

For projects where children, adults or animals will be touching the wood frequently, or where food is prepared and eaten, take a look at our new, untreated sleeper range.  

A bit of common sense

Creosote is now generally handled by professionals in areas governed by health and safety regulations. So if you’re working with reclaimed sleepers, it’s a good idea to take a few common sense precautions. Nothing too ‘rocket science’! It’s just best to work outdoors in a well ventilated space; wear gloves, and take precautions not to breathe in – or let others breathe in – dust and sawdust.

Even better, you’ll see on our order pages that Harringtons will cut your sleepers to size for you – let us take the worry and bother out of it!

We’re here to help

If you have a project in mind and you’re unsure which sleepers are the right ones to use, do feel free to contact us.