Over the years railroad ties have been a popular item for outdoor landscaping, probably due to their inexpensive availability and their durability. Still, a large heavy timber covered with a strong petroleum product, creosote, is not the most sightly or healthy addition to your property. As a result many landscapers may be interested in alternatives to the railroad tie.
About Railroad Ties
The railroad tie is a timber that is laid underneath the steel rails of train tracks to give them support and stability. They are soaked in a heavy tar called creosote to give them a high resistance to rot, insects, and the elements. Because they are durable and tolerate a wide range of conditions, old railroad ties are often used in outdoor landscaping and building projects, for stairs, retaining walls and garden beds.
Alternatives to Railroad Ties
Wood that is naturally rot and insect resistant can also be used for landscaping purposes. These untreated timbers can be more attractive to the eye, and so may be preferable for such uses as outdoor benches and garden planters. Some of the naturally durable woods that can be used to replace the creosote-soaked logs are redwood, cedar, cypress and black locust.
It is also possible to buy pressure-treated wood or to buy clear wood and treat the timbers yourself. You may not save any money by going this route, but using non-creosote wood might help beautify your outdoor space.
Advantages of Using Alternatives
Creosote is believed to have negative health effects, particularly when ingested or when there is prolonged contact with the skin. So finding natural alternatives for high-traffic areas or places where creosote may leach into drinking water is advisable.
Natural woods are more attractive and easier to build with, as you don't have to cut and fit tar-soaked logs. However, it should be noted that some outdoor projects, such as retaining walls and lining pathways, do not require much cutting or fitting and therefore might be a good place to use the large bulky railroad ties.
With natural wood or timbers that you have preserved yourself, you will have an attractive finished product that is safe to touch, plus you'll spare yourself the heavy smell of creosote.