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Using rail way ties in the garden

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  • Using rail way ties in the garden

    Lots of Japanese houses are using old railway ties (makuragi) in landscaping and gardens. Mrs. Adjunct wanted to put some in the garden to build a small vegetable garden. But the English first sites that came up when doing some internet research were all about how dangerous the chemicals used to treat the wood are. The recommendation is don't use them. But when doing a search in Japanese the warnings were out there but harder to find.

    I asked at the local hardware store and the ones they are selling are imported from Australia. What's going on, is the world selling Japan their old railway ties because they remain popular here but are hard to sell in Western countries?

    Any one care to voice an opinion as to whether the European and American websites are overreacting or are the Japanese oblivious to the dangers?

    Just wondering.

  • #2
    I'd say they are a danger for vegetables. Ties are soaked in creosote or oil, not something you want to eat.
    They are fine for flowers and landscaping but that's it. If they are very dark black, brown and reek of oil that's creosote. If they are greenish that's cyanide treated lumber, ok for outdoors, deck supports etc.

    As for the world dumping them here, perhaps. Oil paint will be phased out in the US, and probably already has been in Canada, maybe the price will come down here if they dump it.

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    • #3
      Apart from the health stuff already mentioned, around here at least, for a slab of greasy timber they seem ridiculously expensive (around 4,000 yen).

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      • #4
        Not bad for parking your car on or an approach to your front door. They're gettting a bit old hat now though. The fella we've been talking to for landscaping has stopped using them for that reason.

        Like John, I wouldn't use them for vegetables.

        If you stand half a one on its end and run a pipe or cable through it, it'll make a nice support for a garden light or outdoor tap.

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        • #5
          Hi BA,

          Like johne said, I wouldn't use 'em for making raised vegetable beds. That said, last year when we reformed our place here I scavenged 5 old RR-ties from the in-laws place and stood 'em up on their ends in portland cement to give the front gate some strength. I found some old RR-tie nails at the home-center for 5o yen a piece and stuck 'em in the old holes on the backside of the ties. Great for hanging stuff from.

          Here's a picture of the gate here:
          ken

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          • #6
            Originally posted by bitteradjunct View Post
            Lots of Japanese houses are using old railway ties (makuragi) in landscaping and gardens. Mrs. Adjunct wanted to put some in the garden to build a small vegetable garden. But the English first sites that came up when doing some internet research were all about how dangerous the chemicals used to treat the wood are. The recommendation is don't use them. But when doing a search in Japanese the warnings were out there but harder to find.

            I asked at the local hardware store and the ones they are selling are imported from Australia. What's going on, is the world selling Japan their old railway ties because they remain popular here but are hard to sell in Western countries?

            Any one care to voice an opinion as to whether the European and American websites are overreacting or are the Japanese oblivious to the dangers?

            Just wondering.

            i would recommend stone or bamboo... something the country is just chucked full of.... or maybe researched whale bone.... yea, that would work....

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            • #7
              Probably go along with the consensus here re not using them for veges.
              As an aside, Australian railway sleepers (ties) were often made out of Jarrah, a particularly nice looking member of the Eucalyptus family, very similar in appearance to Mahogany. Deep red in color. Sliced sleepers are often made into jewelry boxes and the likes. Lovely, rot resistant wood (hence its selection for outdoor applications) and while oiled by the locomotives dripping mechanics, usually untreated. Probably not the wood that you'll find available here though. More recent (post war) wooden sleepers were made of faster growing woods and were indeed creosoted/treated with nasty stuff. Scratch one with a nail and check.

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              • #8
                If you aren’t careful, the garden shops will sell you tie-like timbers that are simply spray-painted black, so that they appear to be old railway ties. Without the creosote, they will rot quickly.

                You can of course buy creosote, and soak any timber yourselves so that it will last. I have done this with timbers scavenged from a torn-down barn, and have used them to line and build steps for a footpath.

                And just as an aside - they sell creasote tablets to be taken for upset stomach, so in moderation, it can't be all bad.

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                • #9
                  you could probably build a bed of creosote ties and then just put some clay pots 1/4 way into the soil or so, and grow your veggies amongst the flowers, just an idea

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by gomu View Post
                    Probably go along with the consensus here re not using them for veges.
                    As an aside, Australian railway sleepers (ties) were often made out of Jarrah, a particularly nice looking member of the Eucalyptus family, very similar in appearance to Mahogany. Deep red in color. Sliced sleepers are often made into jewelry boxes and the likes. Lovely, rot resistant wood (hence its selection for outdoor applications) and while oiled by the locomotives dripping mechanics, usually untreated. Probably not the wood that you'll find available here though. More recent (post war) wooden sleepers were made of faster growing woods and were indeed creosoted/treated with nasty stuff. Scratch one with a nail and check.
                    Unfortunately rare as hens teeth now. The Jarrah is indeed beautiful timber, unbelievably tough, and most of these sleepers have been recovered for recycled timber furniture and kitchens and such. Same for old fence posts. 20 years ago you could get sleepers for a song, but not any more. :-(

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                    • #11
                      Thanks for the advice everyone. We actually used a couple rail ties in the front of the house for the mail box and for a faucet. The wife likes the way they look so she wanted to use them in the back garden as well. I think instead we'll make a small brick wall.

                      And they are expensive. They were 5,000 yen for a 210 cm long tie.

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