How do I Build a Wood Retaining Wall? (with picture)

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari
Most retaining walls are built on land that slopes.
Most retaining walls are built on land that slopes.

The first step in building a wood retaining wall is to carefully plan where the wall needs to be built. Most retaining walls are built on land that slopes, and the wood retaining wall is meant to be an attractive and strong support to keep the slope from sliding. The next step is to choose a design; different wood retaining wall designs offer pleasing aesthetics and strength, but some walls are more difficult to construct than others. Choose what your particular needs are, and find your design based on your needs as well as your carpentry skill level.

You will have to dig into the slope of the land in order to properly build the wood retaining wall. Dig in sections to avoid a large collapse of earth, and place the wood as you go. Be sure to choose the correct type of wood; any wood that is placed in the ground will need to be properly pressure treated to avoid rot and decay over time. Pressure-treated fir is a good choice, though cedar, which is naturally water-resistant and mold-resistant, is a better choice that will cost a bit more money.

The first layer of timbers that will comprise the wood retaining wall will be completely buried into the slope. After digging a trench along the span of the area where the wall will be built, wet the area and tamp down the soil. Place the timber and push it into place. The second piece of timber can be placed on top of that piece; if your wall is designed to turn a corner, place the board that will be the perpendicular wall next. Drill a hole through the two timbers, then force a metal rod through the two timbers to steady them into place. The second level of the first side can be placed next and secured in a similar fashion. The corner of the retaining wall will look similar to a wood cabin design, with overlapping timbers providing support at the corners.

Once the wall is built, backfill against the wall. This will involve shoveling the soil on the uphill part of the slope against the wall, as well as soil from the downhill side against the bottom base of the wall. Dampen the soil to encourage it to settle, and drill small holes every few feet along the length of the fence to allow moisture from rain and snow to escape the wall. This will prevent damage to or a complete collapse of the wall in the future.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


I just found a book at my library filled with wood retaining wall ideas. I want to build one in my backyard but I needed to get some ideas before I started. I have built rock retaining walls before but never wood. I knew that I could do the work but I wanted to get my mind thinking about all the possible designs.


My dad had a series of wooden retaining walls in his backyard. He contemplated using some other kind of material but he said he liked the natural look that the wooden walls gave his yard. The wood blends right in to the soil creating a seamless look that you just can't get with stone.

He did the design himself but he hired a contractor to install the walls. The work took about a week but it was very nicely done. A retaining wall is one of those jobs that you can tackle yourself but you might be more satisfied with the results if you left it to a professional.


In some places you can find old wooden railroad ties that make great materials to use for building retaining walls. They may not be quite as long lasting as stone or concrete retaining wall blocks but they will hold your wall in place for as long as you need it to be there and the cost is often lower to work with salvaged wood.

You can find old railroad ties at salvage yards or online or through people that have old pieces of property. Keep your eye out and they will show up eventually.

Post your comments
Forgot password?
    • Most retaining walls are built on land that slopes.
      Most retaining walls are built on land that slopes.