Railroad ties are long, rectangular wooden pieces that are used as cross ties beneath railroad tracks. They're often treated with creosote to help preserve and protect the wood. When railroad tracks are upgraded or torn out, the ties are sometimes sold and repurposed. Railroad ties are often used in landscaping. They are economical and easy-to-use. Railroad ties can be used to build rustic retaining walls, raised flower bed, borders, steps and more.
Look for relay railroad ties for the best grade available. Relay ties look like new. They are dark colored from being treated with creosote. They are solid pieces of wood all the way around containing few cracks.
Inspect No. 1 grade or premium railroad ties for splitting on the ends and wear on the sides. No. 1 grade ties are one step below relay ties, and have three or four straight sides. They're usually dark from creosote. These strong, durable ties are suitable for any landscaping purpose.
Compare No. 2 grade railroad ties with premium ties. Look for more imperfections in the former. No. 2 grade railroad ties are in fair condition, and have two or three straight sides. Look for plate cutting and splitting in the wood, and potential dry rotting. No. 2 grade ties are best suited for retaining walls and fence posts.
Inspect No. 3 grade railroad ties for one or two good sides. These are the lowest grade you can find. The ties are still fairly strong, but have more plate cuts and bigger splits on the ends.