Cutting Rail Road Ties???

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Forum topic by newwoodbutcher posted 08-18-2012 02:19 AM 34725 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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776 posts in 3028 days

08-18-2012 02:19 AM

I’m planning to build a 120 ft three tie high retaining wall as well as a few road curbs flower beds and steps with RR Ties. What ’s the best tool for cutting the ties? I’m thinking that using a chainsaw will ruin the chain at some considerable cost. I cut one with a sawzall but it wasn’t easy or very accurate. I’m thinking a 12” circular saw or a portable band saw from Craig’s List might be my best choice. I’m thinking the pitch and sand in the ties will dull any blade pretty quickly. Is it worth it to buy cheap carbide blades and just plan on wasting them? Or steel blades? What are you folks experience? Any advice would be appreciated

-- Ken

11 replies so far

View Dallas's profile


3599 posts in 2665 days

#1 posted 08-18-2012 02:28 AM

A 20” chain for a chain saw is about $14. Can you buy any other blade any cheaper and sharpen it repeatedly?

There’s no easy way to cut coated ties.

One thing I should mention, check with the local authorities.

When I lived on US2 in Montana and used old ties for a retaining wall on the front yars, the state made me get rid of it because of the chemicals in the wood.

-- Improvise.... Adapt...... Overcome!

View newwoodbutcher's profile


776 posts in 3028 days

#2 posted 08-18-2012 03:18 AM

So you would use a chain saw? How long will it cut before it needs to be sharpened/replaced?

-- Ken

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3826 days

#3 posted 08-18-2012 03:21 AM

Most guys who do a lot of this use a 16” Japanese
beam saw. You can do it with a chain saw too.
Be prepared to sharpen your blade and be aware
you might distort the edge channels on the bar.

View Lifesaver2000's profile


556 posts in 3290 days

#4 posted 08-18-2012 03:46 AM

Over the years I have installed hundreds of old railroad ties in building parking lots and campsite areas, and we always used a chain saw to cut them. If you are using used ties, it pays to look each one over in the area you plan to cut to remove small rocks, and also look for the occasional piece of iron. As I recall, we could go a day on one sharpening if we didn’t hit any major rocks or anything.

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18381 posts in 3854 days

#5 posted 08-18-2012 07:06 AM

You can keep a chain pretty sharp touching it up with a file. If you are careful and keep it consistent, it will start cutting a curve. Use a guide if necessary or you haven’t done much filing.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View lunn's profile


215 posts in 2486 days

#6 posted 08-18-2012 10:42 AM

The chemicals in the wood burns your skin !!! iI built a wall outta them on a hot day wearing shorts using a chainsaw. Sure glad the lake was near by. Lesson learned the hard way.

-- What started as a hobbie is now a full time JOB!

View newwoodbutcher's profile


776 posts in 3028 days

#7 posted 08-18-2012 03:58 PM

Thak you all. I wouldn’t have thought the chainsaw was the best choice all on my own.

-- Ken

View Grandpa's profile


3261 posts in 2853 days

#8 posted 08-18-2012 05:35 PM

Wear a helmet with a face shield when doing this. ties get gravel pressed into them since they lay on a gravel bed when in use to hold rails. You will encounter an ocassional gravel and it can be thrown by the chain. I agree that the chain saw is the best tool.

View a1Jim's profile


117283 posts in 3755 days

#9 posted 08-18-2012 05:48 PM

As a contractor who has replaced a good number of retaining walls made out of rail road ties I would advise against using them at all. The retaining walls I’ve replaced were full of carpenter ants. I would suggest using ground contact pressure treated 2×12’s or what ever size works for your project or use the concrete retaining wall blocks.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 2868 days

#10 posted 08-19-2012 01:53 AM

Guys that install tie walls use a chainsaw motor with a special ‘tie cutter’ circular blade. I have rented these and they work really well. Call around your local tool rental places. You will dull/ruin a chain in minutes cutting railroad ties.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View Mark Shymanski's profile

Mark Shymanski

5623 posts in 3890 days

#11 posted 09-15-2012 05:11 PM

Used to heat my home with ties (long time ago in very rural area…the deer never seemed to mind), and used a 24” saw blade mounted on a steel frame and driven from the tractors power take off. You can cut a mess of ties and once you’ve cut a truckload of ties you need a break so you touch up the blade. It worked great, when I moved I gave the saw to a buddy. As far as I know he’s still using it.

-- "Checking for square? What madness is this! The cabinet is square because I will it to be so!" Jeremy Greiner LJ Topic#20953 2011 Feb 2

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