Jun 17

Off the shelf…

So fathers day was coming up and dad’s just finished the first year of a law course so lots of desk time and books involved. And then I noticed this on accidental woodworker:

Well, a desktop shelf that’d fit in the corner and leave room to hide pens and such underneath should be about right, and I had a nice piece of sapele…

…yeah, no. Turns out sapele is a total pain to plane with a normal handplane because of interlocking grain. By the time I’d resawn it from 6/4 down to just under 3/4inch thick and then flattened the resulting planks I’m down to just a shade over a half-inch thick and that just doesn’t look right for a shelf. So I abandoned the sapele to future box-making duties, and ordered a toothed plane iron to deal with the remaining sapele in my store.

And a new lighter mallet for finer work (the lignum vitae mallet is great but was a bit heavy for working on things like half-blind dovetails).

And then I hauled out one of the last planks of walnut I had to hand, skimmed it and rough-cut it from 9×48 to 9×23 and 8×24, losing an inch of length to kerf and clipping off a rough end on the board and losing an inch of width to a bit of live edge on one half of the board. I also grabbed some oak I had and crosscut it in half, then laminated the two halves together to one 3×3 block; and then cut a diagonal line across the width of the board to give me the two feet – the thing you stand on, not the archaic unit of measurement – roughly 3×2 at the front and 3×1 at the back for a nice gentle slope so that the spines of the books are visible when sitting or standing at the desk.

Then on to the sides. I took the 8×24, cut that in half after I had it flattened and thicknessed down to about ¾”, marked off which corners I’d cut off for that sloped look and then marked out both for a stopped dado for the shelf (which would act as a sort-of-half-lap joint as the shelf would have two shallow rebates on either end to fit). I was planning on using the cut nails I got from Dictum a while back as a design feature so I didn’t make it a sliding dovetail, the nails would hold well enough.

I cut down the walls of the dado as much as I could with the saw and then cut out the waste and the rest of the dado with a chisel, and used a router plane to tidy it all up.

Didn’t turn out too shabbily.

Even got some nice grain alignment between the sapwood and the front of the uprights.

Next though, have to attach the feet to the uprights. Ralph used biscuits for his, but I don’t have a biscuit joiner (or room to use one or store one) so I just cut mortice and tenon joints, complicated slightly by the joint being sloped – the mortice is deeper at one end than the other and the tenon is trimmed as well to avoid chopping through the feet when making the mortice. This gives even more rake to the uprights – it’s not a huge amount, but it does give that slightly steeper angle without needing either the joint or the angle of the feet to take the full angle. It’s a little nicer and it means the spines of the books are at an angle that makes reading the titles easier if you’re sitting or standing at the desk (Dad’s desk is one of those electric standing/sitting desk things).

Not as hard to cut as the curved tenons in the cot a while back. And I did think of using my new morticing chisels but the one in the size I wanted to use has a handle that is literally falling off, and it weighs two pounds and looks like a railway spike. It’s more for deep morticing through a few inches of oak. For a blind mortice like this that’s barely an inch at the most, the firmer chisels are the better choice. Also, holdfasts. Best morticing workholding ever.

And with those fitted, time to sort the back rails, also from some oak I had.
They’re a bit thin, but that’s okay, this is for a desktop so “brick shithouse” isn’t really the design aesthetic I’m looking for here. I was thinking of doing mortice and wedged tenons here, but the walnut was a bit narrower than the sapele board I started with (so pushing the rails back means being able to hold wider books), and walnut’s far easier to carve, so I switched to the idea of using half-blind dovetails so the sides were kept fairly clean-looking. Those went very smoothly (it’s walnut, you’re basically cheating using it for dovetails), the only difficult part being the layout (because you basically need the whole thing assembled to get the final shoulder lines for the last two joints). But you’re only cutting four dovetails in total so it’s fast work.

With that done, that was the last of the joinery, and all that was left was shaping, small touches and fettling and finishing. I took the front corners off with the small ryoba and planed them ganged together to keep the sides matching, then took a small gouge and did some end-grain detail stolen again from Brian Halcombe:

Getting a little better, but still nowhere good as his are. I think I need to practice sharpening my gouges more 😀

I also took the fretsaw and my new preston spokeshave to the shelf to do some shaping work on the two ends (and got out the gouges here as well for the little bit of remaining endgrain). The shelf is a bit thick to avoid (a) sagging in the middle from the 60kg design weight (books weigh more than most people think, the standard loading is about 30kg/ft or so); and (b) thicknessing the board down too much because it turned out one side had the corner of a horrible knot in it and it was a complete pita to plane. But by planing a slope into the underside of the shelf in the last inch or two before you see it, it looks a lot thinner at first glance than it actually is – neat trick learnt from Richard Maguire’s end table videos.

You’ll notice I’ve also drilled pilot holes for the cut nails here. I bought a few boxes of those from Dictum a while back and haven’t had a chance to use them yet. They look quite nice:

For those who don’t see what the fuss is about and haven’t spent sixty hours listening to Christopher Schwarz, Roy Underhill and every youtuber with a table saw ranting about these things, they’re what nails used to look like for thousands of years until someone invented the cut wire nail a hundred years or so ago and found he could make nails that were objectively worse than the existing product in every single way and yet still be successful, so long as they were cheap. The race to the bottom is a very, very old game…

Anyway, these things look decorative and hold things together much more securely than the round nails we use today, but more than that, when the wood swells or shrinks and moves with the seasons, the nails flex with the wood which screws can’t do. This stuff lasts so long they’re still finding shipwrecks from the roman empire where the nails are holding them together.

Anyway, that’s my story about why it was okay to pay six quid for a hundred nails and I’m sticking to it 😛

And then I knocked the arises off the other edges with the preston spokeshave (that thing is rapidly taking over as my favorite tool), and with that done and everything suitably handleable (and the front of the feet turned from blocks to a less aggressive shape), it was time to do the final fitting and fettling of joints. 

It was fairly painless this time. That shelf doesn’t rock or tilt 🙂 I’m a bit pleased by that, the layout was a bit hard because the wood’s not perfectly flattened (that stupid knot on the underside looks pretty but was a pain to work). And then final finish planing before the shellac. At which point I made the happy discovery that not only do we get some lovely colour to the walnut and some lovely medullary rays in the oak, but the walnut is also lightly figured. Which was a nice unexpected surprise, but is unfortunately most prevalent on the underside. Doh.

Well, only one last thing to do before applying finish…

Fire! 😀

Turns out, a real blowtorch versus a chef’s blowtorch isn’t even a contest. A chef’s blowtorch will do creme brulee, whereas one of these weapons of mass destruction will just burn through the sugar, the creme, the dish and most of the table. They’re excellent 😀

I did nearly burn the wood though. Mental note; branding irons only need to be that hot for flesh, for wood you want them less hot. Had to take the block plane to the endgrain to clean it up a little in the end. But that was that, and now on to the shellac. First a quick test…

And we’ll go with garnet for the walnut and lemon for the oak, with maybe a last coat of blonde? Brush on the first coat, then wipe on the next three, knocking back with 0000 steel wool in between each coat.

See what I mean about that walnut? Shame that’s the underside really.
And after a few days (I just did a coat every evening after I got home):

And then it was time for assembly and glue-up. That was a lot more straightforward than I expected too because the nails effectively acted as clamps. So out with the hide glue and I didn’t even need the hot water this time to warm it because today was around 26C in the shed, the warmest day of the year so far. Glue into the stopped dados, then seat the shelf in the dado and knock it firmly home with the deadblow hammer, then drive the three nails to within 2-3mm of being fully seated; turn it over and do the other upright. Then glue in the back rails because the uprights slope inward slightly and the tension holds everything in place. Drive home the nails fully, glue the mortice and tenon joint for the feet together, stand it up and clamp the lower back rails (the upper rails couldn’t be clamped because of the slope on the far side of the upright at their level, doh. Maybe I should have drilled the dovetails for smaller decorative nails, it’s certainly a historical thing to do that).

Left everything to cure for a few hours, then painted the bottom of the feet with titebond over the shellac, and sat them down onto some nice green felt (don’t want to scratch the desk) and let that set up for a few hours before trimming off the excess with a sharp knife. And that was it, all done.

The brand looks nice actually. I was afraid it’d be a bit out of place, but it seems to blend in discretely.

Kicking myself that that figure is on the underneath of the shelf…

But those nails do just look the part, don’t they?

Obviously I need to buy more Lost Art Press books 😀

And yup, there’s the original sketches and notes as well. Not an Ikea design 😀

Thanks again to Ralph at the Accidental Woodworker blog for the idea, it worked out pretty well.


May 17


So, lots of people who make stuff in wood (going back a few hundred or more years) made a mark on the stuff they build (assuming it’s good enough). Usually in an out-of-the-way place, even one where you’d have to disassemble the piece to find it; like signing one of two faces before you glue them together.

Sometimes it was a simple stamp made with a metal stamp and a few taps of a hammer:

Sometimes it was a paper sticker, and sometimes it was branded:


This wasn’t done out of the same sense that triggers graffiti by the way – some guilds from the 17th century onwards made it mandatory to mark every piece a workman made. Not every guild, but enough that it was considered commercial rather than odd or vain.

Well. Not vain for them 😀 For me, it’s pure vanity, but sod it, it was fun. And these days with 3D printing and CNC milling machines, it’s no longer a very expensive process involving difficult custom forging, it’s dropping €30 to €40 on a guy on etsy and giving him a design and waiting for a package to show up in the post three weeks later from Hong Kong. Living in the future has some benefits 😀

So here’s the design:

Not terribly big or fancy (by today’s standards – I suspect you couldn’t readily make this back in the 18th century). M for me, big C for herself indoors, in a venn diagram with a small c for junior in the middle, a common baseline and a random tangent forming an acute angle. So it’s uber-smarmy-symbolic is what I’m saying 😀

But who cares? I have my own branding iron 😀

Simplicity itself to use – hold by handle, point blowtorch at head until hot enough, press onto wood and rock back and forth slightly, quite gently, and you leave a mark in about ten seconds. I don’t think it’d cope with any kind of high rate of production, but that’s fine, I don’t produce stuff very fast 😀

Yes, I’ll brand that sapele, no I won’t be doing that today. Have to finish working on it first.

That’s not too bad, it’s almost discrete 😀

And nice and clean lines too. Have to admit, wasn’t sure it’d come out that well, didn’t know how good the brass CNC milling machines had gotten. But no, it came out fine.

Now I just need to buy a bigger blowtorch. The creme brulee torch isn’t cutting it 😀

May 17

Cleared the bench…

Finally got the last of the tools off the bench and onto the wall by building a small holder for the drills from a hardwood offcut and some recycled plywood. And managed to get a rebate and some stopped dados in as practice 😀

The shed is now finally looking like a proper workshop. I mean, it’s not done yet – the western saws need to go up on the wall too (another magnetic tool rack for them I think, and mount them below the japanese saws – lidl didn’t have any left so ebay it’ll be), and I do need to do something with the grinder and the airbrush, which will probably mean french cleats of some kind and probably redoing the mounting board for the grinder. But for now, it’s not too bad.

Yeah, okay, there’s a huge mess to the right hand side. That’s a bunch of boards rough-cut down to components for some small tables I’m going to build, and they’ve accumulated crap on top of them as any flat space does. I’ll have to tidy up the shed during the week.

But at least now I can work on something that’ll actually leave the shed instead of living there until I recycle it 😀

Oh, and a new moisture meter and thermometer as well. No huge reason for one, I just came across it while buying something else on aliexpress and it cost just under two euro shipped so what the hell.

May 17


It’s been one of those weeks where you don’t get a huge amount of time in the shed, but the chisel rack is finally done. And I have new toys…

The breast drill was in spectacularly good condition for something made somewhere in the 1950s. And used too, there are small marks here and there on it that say this thing wasn’t living in its original packaging until now. And with it, that’s almost all the hand drills I want (I wouldn’t mind a small push-drill for very small holes, 2mm and below, but I don’t need that for anything in the immediate short-term future; but for some tasks, like alignment pins for glueups, a 2mm drill and toothpicks are useful). But for now, I have two eggbeaters, a full set of braces and the breast drill in between the two (there’s a progression through the drills depending on how big the hole diameter is and how hard it will be to drill – you start with the eggbeaters up to about 5mm, then the breast drill from 5mm up to about 10mm, then the braces from then on, using larger braces as you need more torque. There’s some overlap rather than hard dividing lines, but it’s a decent rule of thumb).
And I can have drills dedicated to countersink bits as well, which speeds things up.

And I bought some slightly more specialist gauges as well.

Up top, a grasshopper gauge, which gets used to mark things when the reference face is a bit awkward to get to, and on the bottom is a panel gauge for glued-up panels (made from mahogany so it’s fairly old as well).

But about that chisel rack. The idea was to try to get all the chisels I use up on the wall, along with the gouges, and the usual design, the one I used until now, has disadvantages.

So this is grand if you have space, but if you are limited to 18″ or so of width for the chisels, you can’t get quite so many in and while you can stack them as shown here, you have to stagger them out away from the wall, and there’s not much room for that in my shed. And they have a weakness in that there’s short grain between the holes, so unless you make them from plywood or a more durable hardwood, you can snap out the between-holes chunks pretty readily (either while making them or while using them). And most of my shed stuff is made from fairly cheap pine bought from wherever was handiest (so usually Woodies, and their pine is terrible). So I wanted a design that let me stagger racks without having to come out more than three or four inches from the wall and which avoided the short grain problem.

So here’s the idea:

You have a short length at an angle, you put small cut-blocks behind it to keep the chisels sliding to the left or right, and you have something on the wall that the edge rests on.

And now we just need the shelf-like things on the wall for the edges to rest against.

The edges are angled and covered with felt so that the edges hit them at around 90° and don’t destroy the edge too much. I also put some perspex in front of the chisel racks so I couldn’t accidentally shove my hand into five or six chisel edges if I wasn’t thinking and reached for a measuring tape while facing the vice or some similar whoopsie.

Now, time to load the chisels up.

(And yes, take the time to sharpen and strop each as they go in, because why not?). Bevel-edged chisels first.

Then the firmer chisels, including my new 2″ wide cast steel monster, which is very nearly a slick.

And then the four gouges (there’s room on that rack for a few more chisels yet).

And that’s that done. The racks are held in with screws and the frame they screw into is screwed and glued in place, so if I need to tweak the racks or add new chisels, that should be reasonably easy.
(Note the fretsaw and coping saw got moved on the wall and lidl were selling magnetic tool racks so I cheated and got the japanese saws all up on the wall beside the hammers – the western saws will go below them with the blades pointed down so there’s a “safe reaching zone” in the middle to stick your hand into to grab any of the saws).

And that’s almost all that now. Need to get the scrapers a new holder on the wall somewhere, the old one has gotten loose (well, it was five saw cuts in an offcut from a 2×4). And the drills all need to go up on the wall as well. I have an idea in mind for that, but where exactly on the walls it’ll go I don’t know yet.

But I also have a project I’ve been wanting to do (and gotten a little done on already) and part of me just wants to get the shed furniture bit out of the way as fast as possible and get on with that, but with all the tools in the way, that’s going to be a tad difficult 😀
Plus, having the saws and hammers literally at my fingertips has sped things up at the bench far more than I thought it would. So having the drills to hand would be worth the effort.

I just need to figure out where the hell they’re going to go, I’m running out of wall…

Apr 17

Tooltris continued…

As I mentioned last time, it’s a nice problem to have, but it’s still nicer when you solve it 😀

So it’s mostly a conventional plane rack, with a few quirky bits for the non-bench planes. Here’s the map:

Bench planes make up most of the area, with the T5 over on the far left because of its handle, the blocks below that because that was all the room there was, the compass plane sitting on a shelf, and the various plough planes and rebate planes and router planes in various holders, and the spokeshaves on hooks.

Nicked the general idea for this from here. Though mine’s less fancy 😀

The #044, #043 and #055C plane housings are just pegs and small boards or cutouts in the frame to keep everything aligned. Gravity does the rest, along with the extra friction from the felt. The #043 mount might need some more work but it seems okay for now. 

The #722 mount looks like this but there’s a small cap across the top to bridge the gap now. Works very well if I do say so myself.

And the block planes get small cubbies, but with a bar in front of each one to ensure the plane is at a steep angle; that way I can stack four in that space without coming away from the wall too much.

The spokeshaves and the #080 were a bit easier to build 😀

I still have to build the chisel racks (I have a nice idea for those) and there’s a small area for screwdrivers and such as well, and I want to have a space for the spare irons and the blade sets from the combination planes up in that top right corner; that has to be built yet as well but it won’t be anything fancy.

All that’s not complete either, there’s the toe cap for the bench planes and a header to add, but I wanted to mount it on the wall first:

24 5mm screws, because only five of those are in studs. And it is a lot of cast iron. But it seems okay so far…

Anyway, with it on the wall, I could add the toe cap:

More glue and screw construction here, this isn’t going to win awards, it’s shed furniture. A bit of felt along the top as well, because I’ll attach a header in front of that to make a shelf:

And done. Had to fettle the ends of the shelf a bit with the spokeshave, but it fits, and more glue and screws later, here we are. Everything fits. I still have space for a #08, which I’ll get as soon as one in decent condition shows up on ebay for less than the price of its weight in platinum, and for a #02, which won’t ever show up for as low a price as its weight in platinum, but that’s collectors items for you. I’m holding its space for when I find one going for €5 in a car boot sale 😀

Things are starting to get a bit tidier at last. I still have to sort out the drills and the saws though. I’ll probably move the fret and coping saw from where they are now over to the left side, put the drills where they are now and put the saws beneath them and the hammers. Or I’ll put the drills on the front wall of the shed, behind me as I face the bench. Not sure yet. And of course, now that everything has a place, I’ll buy something else that’ll need more room than I have, like two more braces.

Not to mention the breast drill that’s still in the post…

But next job is definitely going to have to be that chisel rack. The chisels have gone back into a tool roll, and using those things is a pain in the fundament…

Apr 17

The old ones are the best ones…

Apr 17

Blinded by the light…

So the SI unit for “brightness” (this isn’t exact, roll with it) is the lux and you can measure it with lightmeters (or a lightmeter app on your smartphone if you live in 2017). A really dark and stormy overcast day is around 100 to 200 lux as is your typical home lighting (my kitchen table, for example, sees 140 lux as I’m sitting here). Sunrise or sunset is around 400 lux. A well lit office can be anything up to around 500 lux. Noon on a typical cloudy Irish day is around 1000 to 2000 lux.

Earlier today, I hooked up the third LED T8 in the shed (the one I fitted yesterday):

At my workbench, the lightmeter now reads 2400 lux.

It’s now brighter inside my shed than it is outside my shed at noon on most Irish days. I might possibly have gone a little far.

(BTW, the T8s cost about €30 each off ebay and claim to draw 44W each and should last for a few years. So yeah, I’d recommend them)

Apr 17


So I came across this goop watching Crimson Guitars recently (I don’t want to build guitars, I just find the woodworking part fascinating while finding the music part kinda meh).

Basically, take this plastic (which comes in little balls like styrofoam packaging), put a few tablespoons into hot water (60C/140F is where the magic happens) and it goes from hard white solid to transparent goop. Fish it out of the water with a spoon, give it a second or two to cool down so you can hold it without third-degree burns to your fingertips, and now you have something similar to mala (or plasticine or playdough or silly putty or whatever you grew up with); only when it cools down, whatever shape it’s in it sets up hard in.

When it’s back to being hard again, it’s a hard white plastic that you can saw, drill, file, tap (no idea how much load it’ll take though) or otherwise work. And when you’re done with it, put it back into hot water and it goes back to transparent goop again and you can reuse it. No idea how many cycles you’ll get from it, but I’m up to three or four so far with no sign of degradation.

So how’s it useful in the shed? Well, I use LED T8s to light the shed. Or more accurately, until last weekend I used one. Then the second one arrived last weekend and now I use two.

Thing is, when I ordered that second one, I accidentally ordered two of them. So I wanted to fit the third T8 and in between the other two is the only viable place left. But the roof has no handy single flat surface there (if I picked either of the two flats I’d get uneven light distribution and I’d go spare). So I need some blocks cut to the angle of the roof and attached so that I have a horizontal surface to mount the light to.

But I don’t know that angle, it definitely isn’t something nice like 30, 45, 60 or 90. It’ll be 57.423 degrees or whatever hastily-nailed-together-8-by-6 sheds use. So out with a few tablespoons of thermomorph, let it go transparent, cool back to translucent, and then shove a wodge of it into the roof angle (you can see it above in that picture).

And then when it cools, take it down and let it cool fully to harden fully.

And there’s your angle. Now take your saw and cut it in half so you have a flat face to present to the wood, and mark off the angles.

And now you just saw down the lines, then crosscut into two blocks, and start drilling pilot holes for screws and countersinks.

Then screw the blocks to the roof…

…and the mounting clips to the blocks…

…and then clip the T8 into the clips.

And done. No faffing about with cut-and-test-and-cut-and-test-and-plane-and-test-and-plane-too-much-and-test-and-curse-and-start-over-again.

Yeah, you could probably do this with a bevel as well, if you had a small 2-3 inch size one, but the thermomorph can get into small awkward spots a bit better than most bevels. Plus, as Ben Crowe was showing in that video above, you can replicate curves and other odd profiles just as readily as straight line angles.

And you can get different brand names as well (Multimorph, Polymorph and so on) as well as dyes in case you don’t like white, or even food grade versions of the stuff. And near-infinite shelf life too. So definitely some stuff to have handy in the shed from now on.

Apr 17


So, don’t get me wrong, I know this is a nice problem to have, but still…

Dovetailed and rebated border all glued up and fitted to the plywood panel, grand but now I have to figure out how to get all those planes on there and the chisels as well (the hammers will move to the side wall I think).
Also, leaving space for a Record #08 on the left, a Record #02 on the right and a Record #05 which I was absolutely certain I had bought but apparently I’d decided I didn’t need one because I had a #05½ and a #04½ already. Stupid sensible idea, that one.
Mounting might be interesting. I don’t think french cleats will help here, so I guess we’re down to a few dozen countersunk screws through the plywood and into the studs in the shed wall. But that’s an awful lot of cast iron…
BTW, I don’t expect much from knotty pine whitewood bought from woodies, but dammit, was I asking too much to expect that a 1.8m length of 43x12mm whitewood would be 1.8m of whitewood and not several 30cm lengths scarfed together? Good grief.

Mar 17

Hey Presto-n…

Another new toy today. While building the crib, my favorite tool very quickly became my Record 151 spokeshave.

It’s a really simple little tool and works brilliantly one you follow Richard Maguire’s tip and take off the adjustment knobs because you can’t ever get them both to agree well enough to keep the blade properly adjusted, so instead you just clamp the blade with the cap and set it with a hammer (which is a much finer adjustment than it sounds). It’s brilliant for anything with curves, or for rounding over sharp corners quickly for that matter.


While it’s a lovely tool to work with, and far beyond cheapo Drapers and the like (I don’t care what Paul Sellars says on that one, I’ve seen the Draper spokeshave and it’s just manky), it does have faults. The casting of the body does not match the cap perfectly, for example – there are lugs on the sides of the lever cap that should fit into the body, but there’s a good 3-4mm of a gap because the tolerances weren’t finer. And you can set the blade further forward very readily and surprisingly delicately with a hammer, but you can’t retract it with the hammer, you have to undo the cap and reseat the blade back at the start and advance it again with the hammer, which can be annoying at times. It does the job, but I keep thinking there are things that can do the job better.

Well, probably the best out there right now according to everyone with a few hundred euro to drop on a spokeshave, is this:
That’s a Lee Nielson Boggs Spokeshave (Boggs being the rather accomplished chairmaker who designed it). And if you have approximately twenty times the price I paid for my 151, you can test it to find out 😀

Me, I went a different way and chased after a Preston. Edward Preston & Sons were the Lee Nielson of their day, arguably at the very top of the toolmaking world from around 1825 to somewhere between 1911 (when Edward Preston died) and 1932 (when the company was bought by Rabone). Unlike most of the other manufacturers who seem to have mostly copied stanley designs, the preston tools were markedly different. And their spokeshaves were neat, elegant, and clever. They had a well-known design (the 1391) that had very decorative casting:

But as good as it’s supposed to have been, I just didn’t like the look of it, so I went after their plainer version and finally managed to get a good example of one for, okay, just shy of forty euro including postage, but that’s still a third the price of the Lee Nielson. And just look at how pretty it is!

It’s been restored and it looks absolutely magnificent. And note that there’s only one adjustment knob so you don’t have to worry about misaligning the blade by not being in sync with both knobs, so you don’t need to adjust it with a hammer.

And the blade looks almost unused:

I’ll have to make a new sharpening holder for it, but it’s got enough steel there for a while longer yet, and Ray Iles makes replacement blades today for about 15 euro-ish.

Now, I just need to think of a new project to use it on 😀

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