Pillars, paths, or furniture: railway sleepers have endless uses. But whether it is garden sleepers or raised beds, it is very important it is reliable, durable, and can withstand the weather. This is why the choice of material is very important: Should you buy hardwood or softwood sleepers?

One material is synonymous with durability, however: oak. An oak hardwood sleeper can last substantially longer than its softwood counterparts — if you care about durability, they’re the obvious choice! In this article, we’ll go over the precise reasons why oak railway sleepers are so durable, what potential downsides they have, and ways you can overcome those downsides!

What Makes Oak Last So Long?

Many homeowners have heard that oak is durable, but they don’t know what that means in practice. There are a few key qualities that oak has and softwood timber sleepers don’t have which makes the former be more durable and last much longer!

  • Resistance to Pests and Fungi

Fungi and pests are some of the biggest natural enemies of wood. Whether it is garden sleepers or railway sleepers, once pests and fungi can make a home for themselves, they will slowly erode the wood from the inside, rendering it unusable in months in certain circumstances. Oak has a natural resistance to both pests and fungi, which helps it last substantially longer vis-a-vis other types of wood. This natural resistance is why oak is a favourite in wet climates like Britain!

  • Able to Withstand Heavy Weights

Thanks to its natural resistance to warping and its very robust structure, oak can withstand surprisingly heavy weights, which not only makes it last longer but also improves its utility. If you want to use the sleepers as pillars or retaining walls, oak is a natural choice!

  • Requires Little Maintenance

Compared to softwood sleepers, oak requires far less hands-on maintenance, both during summer and winter. While helping with its longevity, this also makes oak sleepers a more practical choice for many!

What Factors Can Reduce Hardwood Oak Sleepers’ Longevity and How Can You Address Them?

While oak railway sleepers are incredibly durable and can last for a very long time, they’re not perfect. There are still things that harm oak and reduce its durability, and thankfully, there are ways to address them.

  • Constant Moisture

Constant moisture is an enemy of all types of wood, and this sadly includes oak. Whether it is through rain or wet ground, constant exposure to moisture will slowly erode oak garden sleepers’ structural integrity.

Thankfully, there are a few ways to combat this – the most popular being wood preservatives. By semi-regularly applying wood preservatives to your oak and pressure-treated timber sleepers, you can limit the impact of moisture.

  • True Oak

There are hundreds of species of oak, and while it is true some oak species make for excellent railway and garden sleepers and can last a very long time, this is far less true for other species. If you’re not familiar with timber sleepers, it can be hard to identify true oak.

The only solution here is to make sure you’re purchasing oak from trusted sources. At Timberstore, for example, all of our oak sleepers are carefully sourced and tested to ensure their quality and longevity.

Oak Sleepers FAQ

Will Oak Railway Sleepers Rot in the Ground?

Oak sleepers are naturally resistant to rot and can last a long time despite direct contact with the ground. Nevertheless, every kind of wood is susceptible to rot to some degree, and contact with the ground speeds up the process. So, if it is possible, it is preferable to find a design or method to prevent them from coming in direct contact with the ground.

How Do Softwood Sleepers Compare to Oak Hardwood Sleepers?

Softwood sleepers are usually less durable than oak: they can withstand less weight and are more susceptible to pests, fungi, and rot. softwood timber sleepers are often pressure-treated to increase their durability and longevity.