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What Wood Are Railway Sleepers Made Of?

Updated: Mar 27

There are many kinds of wood that can be used as the railroad sleeper in the world, but not every kind of wood can be used. What wood are railway sleepers made of? You should be asking. At the different sections of the tracks, for example, common track section, turnout track section, bridge track section, etc., we often have to select different kinds of wood to meet different conditions and environments. Meanwhile, wood can be divided into hardwood and softwood according to the hardness of wood texture, which also needs us to make a proper selection for the specific tracks.


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What wood are railway sleepers made of? Let’s talk about it. The wood suited for the railroad sleeper includes as follows:

  • Common track section and turnout track section: Elm, birch, oak, jarrah, karri, sal, mora, maple, azobé, poplar, larch, pine, Yunnan pine (a kind of Chinese pine), spruce, fir, hemlock, and other broad-leaved tree species (poplar isn’t used as turnout sleeper).

  • Bridge track section: Huashan pine (a kind of Chinese pine), larch, Yunnan pine (a kind of Chinese pine), spruce, fir, hemlock, koraiensis, etc.

A variety of softwood and hardwood is used as the sleepers. Oak, jarrah, and karri are popular hardwoods, which are increasingly difficult to obtain, especially from sustainable sources. The softwoods such as Douglas fir have the advantage of accepting treatment more readily, they are cheaper, lighter, easier to treat, and more readily available.


Although wooden sleepers are still available, they are becoming scarce and are now replaced by concrete sleepers. Sleepers were imported from mainly Africa, Australia, and Malaysia. Sleepers obtained from local sources for maintenance on railway lines are largely Pine and Seligna, both not suited for furniture.

In the construction industry, solid sleepers are used to support large machinery," says Jakes Maree, owner of Sleeper Sales in Centurion. The greatest surprise that hides within the sleepers is the variety of colours, which you can only see once the wood is cut. These colours vary in shades of yellows, reds, and black.

Sleepers are very popular as focal points in gardens, such as garden paths or water features. Sleepers are cut into planks of various thicknesses to suit the needs of customers.

Furniture "that will last forever" is made by private individuals, manufacturers & contractors," says Maree. People also use these planks in staircases, buildings (lintels), window frames, swivel doors, gates, and much more. For a smoother look, the holes in the planks where the large screws were removed, can be filled.

Another unique feature is that no two sleepers look the same, which means that your furniture will also have unique qualities. Because of the hardness of the wood, special machinery & equipment is needed to cut planks.


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