Make a Railway Sleeper Mantelpiece

A reclaimed railway sleeper is robust and instantly makes any fireplace more homely. If I promise you that this is pretty low skill level for high impact, would you believe me? I will hold your hand through this easy process and then would like to challenge you to share your own versions with us all! When I was travelling around South Africa I saw lots of railway sleeper furniture but mainly outdoors. The reclaimed sleepers were in plentiful supply out there and in places like Johannesburg it certainly didn’t look out of place! So why couldn’t I make railway sleeper furniture in the UK a big thing?

Roaring Railway sleeper fire

Is it dangerous to use reclaimed railway sleepers indoors?

This is a really valid question. For around 150 years railway sleepers have been treated with Creosote. This not only causes a bad smell, but it is also toxic. Some people make the choice to only used treated sleepers in the garden. I would not make that decision myself as I want a toxin-free garden. You can buy pressure treated non-creosote sleepers and here is a nice easy link to follow for new railway sleepers. 

We are using non-creosote treated as they are much more environmentally friendly. We will also not need to worry about carcinogenic fumes, which is a definite plus!

Aren’t they very big to cut?

oh yes! So we measured twice and then asked the yard to cut to length, at no additional cost. We maintained freedom on this so that we could get a top the full width of the chimney breast. The two pillars either side created off cuts, which we have also kept. More on that later, as I have plans for oak sleeper furniture! You should be able to get a good deal from your local yard. If you wanted to cut them, once you had bought them you really would need an industrial piece of kit and some serious PPE and abrasive wheel training.

Are they super heavy?

Well rather embarrassingly, no they are not. I made myself look a real wimp by being nervous of lifting my one pillar into the back of the car. When I did finally go to lift it I nearly threw it in the air! Needless to say if you don’t go for Oak it will be lighter! Also it should be noted that we found ours in a timber yard. An outside timber yard. Therefore lay the sleepers out flat indoors at a relatively regular temperature for a few days. The wood will lighten in colour and you get a good idea that it will not bow or twist as it is a solid piece of wood!

If you want the Railway sleeper to look even more rustic, you can use sandpaper to ‘distress’ the wood. We love a bit of upcycling that looks like you haven’t bothered! We would put our funky upcycled chairs in front to make it look even more rustic and cosy.

How difficult is it to attach them?

Well simply the way we have set them out meant we only needed160x20mm Solid Stainless Steel Heavy Duty Straight Repair Joining Flat Plate Bracket with Screws - 6PCS Pack These are then attached to the flat of the two uprights on the top ends. Chose which side has the prettiest grain and attach the brackets to the other side. You will be doing yourself a big favour if you drill a pilot hole. By using a 1.5mm wood drill bityou can then more easily get a longer screw in.

Top Tip –

You will be doing a lot of screwing in for this project, so invest in a Cordless Combi Drill that you can also use for the pilot holes.

 

The only fiddly bit – I promise

Two people are needed here. You will rest the top mantel on the two uprights and then line it up to the chimney breast. A pencil to mark the top part will help. Do this by eye, a Spirit Level is very handy later on, but for now mark it up by eye. Move it away from the chimney and then drill your pilot hole, and attach the bottom pieces.

I may have lied, 2nd fiddly bit

you then lift it as one piece very gently and introduce it to the chimney breast. You will need at least two Right Angle Brackets

The force of the weight on the top will want to push it out from the wall at the top. We therefore marked it up towards the top, drilled 4mm holes and used rawl pugs and screws to attach. We intend to paint over it in white. This will hopefully conceal it and make it all look seamless. railway sleepers secured

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How else can I make it secure?

I am a natural worrier. This is not always a bad thing as I hope you think my solution is very cute! I have usedA PAIR OF SMALL BRACKETS 6 INCH BRACKET CAST IRON as I really like the industrial look. It is a shabby chic look which works very well with a few other crafts. So again pilot hole then screw them in. These railway sleepers are now cute and lend a real country feel to our home.

 

make a railway sleeper mantelpiece
It is all worth it I swear, our home looks ten times as snug now!

Essential Shopping list –

If you want to get stuck in with your DIY I would invest in a Combi drill set. With a full set you will get a good range or drill bits and different heads for different tasks.
This is the same make that I used when I worked as an electrician, only I had many more drill bits!!! It is an ideal beginners tool kit and would make a very good gift for a self-sufficient home.

If you decide to just go with the basic drill you could go a lot worse than this one
I would say this is a case of ‘you pay for what you get.’ I love my DIY and find that it is so much easier when I have the right tools to a good standard. When I used power tools every day I spent a lot of money on drill bits as well! But for the home DIYer the below will be fine.

Makita Power Drill Accessory Set (100 Pieces)

You can get as creative as you like with wood stains and you should apply it prior to attaching to the chimney breast. The reason we like this company is that they are environmentally friendly.  This is important to us inside the house, especially above a fire which could warm it up.

Total cost

We are a power tool possessing family so we had these in stock already! The only cost to ourselves was for the wood and brackets. So this entire restoration came in at under £90. I would say it was one of the biggest impact for lowest input jobs we have done. I have the off cuts left as the yard let us take those home in the price. Now I have all sorts of plans for a brick BBQ area and reclaimed oak sleeper furniture all round! Then our garden will look like the relaxed feel of the fire pit and railway sleeper furniture of South Africa!

Why reclaimed railway sleepers rock

They are built to last and have had time out in all weathers, all of their warping and bending is over. So I plan on distressing the sleepers and creating natural looking furniture with them. I cannot wait for the warmer weather to sit outside, lit a fire and relax in our sturdy reclaimed railway sleeper furniture!

What could be more zero waste than that?

 

Now to add some rustic bling

So now we have our gorgeous chunky railway sleeper mantelpiece we need to add some much needed craftiness too!

upcycled and repurposed hessian sack to a rag rug
A countryside rag rug for the front of the fireplace.

 

fat quarters
The perfect accessory for a cosy night in front of the fire
A nice vase of flowers from the garden!