Joining railroad ties for garden suggestions


I've been asked to help a friend replace some old rotting railroad ties lining a garden area. This time they want to join the ties together in some way and since I'm not very knowledgeable about woodworking I thought you guys could give me some ideas. The ties will be just one layer high. There are four 90 degree angles since the garden is rectangular. The straight areas will need several ties joined together and I'm not sure what type of cuts/splices/dowels to use to fasten these things together. They are fairly large pieces of wood. Any ideas and/or photos are greatly appreciated.
Stan
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I usually use through dovetails; half blind just isn't strong enough with big wood like that.
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How about using half lap joints secured with these? http://www.mcfeelys.com/subcat.asp?subcat .1.12.10
Art
I've been asked to help a friend replace some old rotting railroad ties lining a garden area. This time they want to join the ties together in some way and since I'm not very knowledgeable about woodworking I thought you guys could give me some ideas. The ties will be just one layer high. There are four 90 degree angles since the garden is rectangular. The straight areas will need several ties joined together and I'm not sure what type of cuts/splices/dowels to use to fasten these things together. They are fairly large pieces of wood. Any ideas and/or photos are greatly appreciated.
Stan
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Wood Butcher wrote:

I agree on the half lap joints but the fasteners you suggest won't be long enough. Railroad ties are something like 12 X 12. I'd suggest concrete re bars cut to appropriate length with an angle grinder.
FoggyTown
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Wood Butcher wrote:

I agree on the half lap joints but the fasteners you suggest won't be long enough. Railroad ties are something like 12 X 12. I'd suggest concrete re bars cut to appropriate length with an angle grinder.
FoggyTown
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Why not just use heavy galvanized tie plates & corner braces with those screws? 1/4" thick x 1 or 1 1/4" wide, predrilled. They may rust after a while, but with that amount of metal you won't have to worry about it in this lifetime.
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Why join them together? Once placed, they won't move if on relatively flat ground. Also back fill about 1" all the way around the tie. One could drill thru them in two or three places and drive rebar into the ground. 1/2 inch will do. But if you gotta join them, a half lap works good, still need the rebar tho. A reciprocating saw or a chain saw. RR ties are 8x6"
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For what it's worth, we had a "professional" landscaper do a retaining wall for us about 15 years ago using railroad ties. His concept of setting the vertical posts first and then leveling them with a chain saw sounded just fine.
To his dismay, the vertical 'posts' had all sorts of sand, etc. in then which ate up the chains of his saw at a very rapid rate.
Summed up, they don't cut/machine very easily???
Good luck!

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Stan Mulder wrote:

I don't know where you are located, but I'll relate what I did in Northern Ohio, more than 30 years ago.
As far as I know, it is still in service.
As I remember, was able to get a couple of ties that were about 16 ft long and still full of sticky black creosote in some places.
Cut one of the timbers with a cross cut pruning saw into an 8 ft and two 4 ft pieces.
This allowed a 4 x 24 garden using an existing concrete porch slab as the 4th side.
Dug out the dirt for a quasi footer under the tie area and replaced with slag to provide some drainage in hard clay soil.
Set the ties on the slag, then back filled with dirt so the ties were about 1/2 above grade.
Filled the space with a bunch of pea gravel left over from another landscaping job after first laying black plastic punched full of holes to keep the weeds from growing in the area.
Laid a bunch of 8x16 colored concrete patio stones around the outside so the grass wouldn't grow against the ties so I wouldn't have to trim.
The ties didn't move in the 20+ years I lived there.
It worked for me.
YMMV
Lew
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On Sat, 21 May 2005 15:13:19 -0400, Stan Mulder

Suggestion. Use 2-1/2" deck screws and some aluminum angle stock (may be purchased at Home Depot). The angle will cut easily with a hack saw, then file/sand the sharp edges. Drill 2 or three holes in each side to accept the deck screws. You can secure the ties to the ground to keep them shifting by pounding pieces of 2-foot rebar into locations (pre-drilled holes with a spade bit) near where the butt joints are located.
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On Sat, 21 May 2005 15:13:19 -0400, the inscrutable Stan Mulder

I picked up a pallet of ties a couple months ago. they have ripple irons in the ends. I'll be drilling them and pounding 3' sections of rebar into the holes/ground to hold them in place.
Butt them together and drive pins in. At 100-200 pounds each, they won't go anywhere.
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Most of the railroad ties I'm familiar with usually have an 'S' piece of metal hammered into the end to reduce checking. The rest of the tie is checked enough that you can find gravel in them. They're about 8" square, although they can vary. I've never seen a new one, just used, though. Not exactly material for fancy joinery.
Half laps are really good to do, but be on the look out for the 'S' & other debris. I've used galvanized spikes to put them together, but if I just want them to sit still in the ground, I drill a 7/16" hole through them & pound a 2' length of 3/8" rebar through them into the ground. They tend to stay put pretty well. I agree with digging them an inch or so into the ground, too. A mower can clip them & move them otherwise.
Jim

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Half laps and drill and pin with lengths of rebar driven thru the ties and a couple feet into the ground
John
On Sat, 21 May 2005 15:13:19 -0400, Stan Mulder

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Exactly what I did.
Homier sells a set of long drill bits really cheap

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On Sat, 21 May 2005 15:13:19 -0400, Stan Mulder

Those things are likely to eat up any saw you use on them, and they're full of nasty chemicals to boot- so I wouldn't get too awfully fancy with it. Have you considered just using the cactus plates that are often used when making trusses on the bottom and perhaps the inside corners of the joints? They are not going to have a deep enough spike penetration to make a free standing stucture out of the suckers, but the things are just sitting on the ground, and the plates would keep them from sliding apart pretty well.
Also, if you don't want to dig to set the ties, if you fill the garden area with topsoil so that it's level with the top of the ties, that sucker isn't going to go anywhere- especially once the garden gets going and you've got all those roots holding the topsoil in place. Then you don't have to till it, either.
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You really ought to run the ties through your jointer before doing any other work on them.
:)
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