Large Trade Shows – a beginners view

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A tradeshow overviewWe recently had a chance to put a display in a large, professional trade show.  The booth price was excellent and we thought it was a great opportunity so we decided to try it out.  We have never displayed our products this way before and were quite excited about it.  The show was only two weeks away, so we would have to move fast if everything was to be ready in time. 

Before we go too far, let’s look at how a large trade show is created (as I understand it).  Let’s say the City of Hamilton is going to put on a Home & Garden Show.  They will hire a company which specializes in managing these types of shows.  The managing company will then arrange other contracted services – eg. electrical, lighting, plumbing, decorating, audio/visual. The managing company will also arrange for the insurance, permits, licenses, and whatever else is required.  Finally, we get to the the Exhibitors (vendors).  Those are the people who are renting booths in the show to ply their wares on the visitors.

Since we were applying to be vendors in the show, we were dealing directly with the managing company.  The process is pretty simple.  We inquired about availability, they responded with a floor plan marking the available booths in our price range.  We picked one.  A couple forms were filled out and sent to us to fill in credit card information and things like that.  Along with the forms came the Exhibitors Information Package.  This is where we suddenly bogged down. 

One of the duties of the managing company is to ‘unify’ the show, to ensure that the entire show presents itself in a clean, pleasing, professional manner. This is to ensure that visitors are in a comfortable, friendly state-of-mind, so that they will be more likely to purchase, or at least inquire, about the vendors products, which makes the vendors happy.  Good sales and happy vendors, means that the show will grow from year to year and the managing company will get more work. 

There are a lot of things about these trade show booths that we needed to know.  For starters, the size.  10’x10′ seems to be the standard, if you want a bigger space then you Empty Display Boothrent the adjacent booths.  What about the cost for that 100 square feet?  You can expect to pay anywhere from $100 – $1500+.  It all depends on the show and where the booth is in the floor plan. What you get when you rent the booth is a piece of floor, with a tube-framed curtained divider seperating you from your neighbour.  This is your little piece of the world and you can do with it as you please assuming that you meet the rules and regulations posted by the managing company.

That was okay, we weren’t paying a lot for our 10 ft.sq. booth hidden near the back corner adjacent to the child drop-off area. It was just for the experience. So we started working out the logisitics, and reading the Exhibitors InfoPak.  We have a small display – a couple of posts to display the birdhouses, a cross bar for the whirlwinds, a 6′ table for brochures and taking orders, and the chess set which is it’s own table.  We wouldn’t need much, we thought.

Here is what we ran into:

  • Insurance – the shows insurance covers anyone in the aisles, not in the booths.  So we would have to get vendors liability insurance. This costs somewhere around $85-$100 for the weekend.
  • Lighting – The general show lighting was going to be on the dim side, which meant we would have to rent lights and have them installed in the booth. We would have to arranged this with the decor company.  And what good is a light without …
  • Electricity – of course, for a significant fee the show electricians would run power to the booth as long as we arranged it with them before hand.
  • Carpet – this is mandatory at many shows to protect the facilities floors, and to reduce the noise level.  You can supply your own suitable flooring, or rent it from the decor company.
  • Internet Access – had to be set up with the shows telecom provider prior to the show.

So, what started out being around $200 to rent a booth turned out to be closer to $750 if we actually wanted to use it.  There are a lot of people with their hand in the cookie jar at these large shows, and each comes with a fee.  I can’t imagine the bills the truly large displays have to pay – you know, the ones with ponds, and walkthrough gardens and such.  I’ve seen display systems and designs running into the tens of thousands of dollars, before the show fees.  You have to move a lot of product to cover those kinds of costs.

At the end of the day $750 (+ travel expenses)  is not a bad price for a spot at a large show where you may get a lot of exposure – if you can be sure that you’ll generate enough sales to cover your costs.  However, we’re a young, garage-based business, and we couldn’t validate spending that much money on a whim. For the time being, we’ll be sticking with the smaller shows.  The local fairs still require insurance, but they usually don’t demand that you rent things like carpet and lights.  We’ll start small.  Get a handle on the basics and work our way up to the big leagues.

Rosemary’s Cupboard – building with oak

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I like getting the odd custom job to figure out, especially when it involves materials, equipment, or techniques which I haven’t used before.  Just such an order was Rosemary’s Cupboard.  During a visit a while back, Rosemary requested a cabinet to fit beside the fridge in her kitchen.  We assessed the existing cupboards and measured up the space, then figured out what purpose the new cupboard was to serve.  We were also able to take one of the existing cupboard doors home for style and color matching.

Rosemary's Cupboard Sketch Plan

After a bit of sketching, and pondering, we came up with a relatively simple plan which would allow us to try a few new things.  The PDF of our sketch plan is available for download.  It is not by any stretch of the imagination a complete plan of the project as I tend to do a lot of work in my head rather than on paper.  But, it’ll give you the basic idea of what I was after.  This design relied on european-style hinges, drawer sliders, and rail & stile router bits.  [This means we had to go buy some more tools from Lee Valley– Yaay!]

The Body

The body of the cupboard is easy.  It’s just a simple box.  3/4″ oak plywood for the sides, top, bottom, center, and the toekick/base.  1/2″ oak plywood for the back.  The spacers, and crossers were each cut from 3/4″ oak plywood, the spacers being affixed to the sides prior to assembling the rest of the body.  Holes for the adjustable shelf pegs were also drilled.  Then the rest of the pieces were glued and nailed into place.  The 3/4″ plywood crossers being placed last.

Shop Tip:  The hardwood plywoods like to splinter when being cut.  Masking all cut lines with painters tape will reduce this a little, but to ensure good clean cuts invest in a proper cabinetry/plywood saw blade.  Unfortunately, they can run from $85 to $150 but are totally worth the investment, saving you time and waste from bad cuts.

Solid oak trim pieces were cut to create the face of the cupboard body.  These pieces will dress up and hide the plywood edges and make for clean edges.  My original plan was to drill pocket holes and screw these pieces together before attaching to the rest of the body, but I could be more accurate by just gluing and nailing to the plywood directly. 

This basically finished the body.  I would like to note the small indent at the back of the toekick.  This solves a small pet peave I have with most purchased cabinets – getting around the baseboards.  Why should the cabinet have a huge gap behind it?  Anyhow, on to the shelves.

Adjustable Shelves

The holes were drilled in the sides during the body assembly,  so all that was left here was to make the shelf itself.  It is just a piece of 3/4″ oak plywood with a 3/4″ piece of solid oak trim on each side.  The trim again hides the plywood edge, but also gives it a little extra strength to resist sagging across the 43.5″ span.  One shelf is made for the bottom cupboard, two are made for the top.

The DrawersDrawers

Basically there are two drawers here. One is roughly 6″ deep, while the other has no depth at all being just a pull-out shelf. Lets look at the pull-out shelf first. 

It is nothing more than a piece of 3/4″ oak plywood.  The drawer slides are attached on either side and a faceplate is fashioned from a piece of solid oak to cover the opening.  The faceplate is attached with screws through the front.  Plugs are fit into the screwholes after finishing.

The 6″ drawer consists of 3/4″ oak plywood sides and a 1/2″ oak plywood bottom.  Dadoes were cut into the sides to receive the bottom piece.  The drawer slides are attached to either side and a faceplate fashioned of solid oak.  The faceplate this time can be attached with screws on the inside of the drawer.

The Doors

This, I was expecting to be the hard part.  Each door required two rails (top and bottom), two stiles (left and right), and a 1/4″ oak plywood panel for the center.  The rails and bottom stile were cut from 1″x4″ oak, while the top stile came from a 1″x6″ oak piece. I cut a template for the top stile, traced it onto a 1″x6″ piece and rough cut the curve on the band saw.  Then it was time to play with the router and the new rail & stile bits.  If you’ve never used them, this is a two bit set where one bit is used to create the inside profile, while the other creates the counter-profile so that the stiles will butt cleanly against the rails.  The top stile was my main concern so I started there.  The bits have bearing wheels so they will ride against a template and act as a trim bit while shaping the edge. I taped my template to the rough cut piece and routered the inside edge. While this bit was in place I slid the other stile and rails through it. I set the other bit in the router and profiled the ends of the stiles. It was very important to use a sacrificial push block here, as the oak chips like crazy near the ends.  Test fitting  the pieces was truly satisfying as they locked tightly together.

The panel was cut from 1/4″ oak plywood.  It slides into a groove created by the rail & stile bits, so very little had to be done to it.  The curve only needed to be rough cut on the bandsaw.  All the pieces were put together, the joints of the rails and stiles were glued, but the panel was left to float.  Clamps were applied and the doors were left to cure for the night.

The HingesUnfinished Cupboard

The last structural component.  The european style hinges are again, remarkably easy to install.  They have a bit of a tolerance for error, and are easy to work with.  Do some research before buying them though.  Aside from different hinges opening at different angles (I used 107° overlay frameless ), there are different hinges for how your door is going to sit on the frame (overlay, offset, inset), and for the type of frame your mounting on (face frame, frameless).  Once you have the correct hinge just follow the instructions.  For mine, I drilled a 1-3/8″ hole with a forstner bit into the rail of the door and mounted a small clip onto the body of the cupboard for each hinge.  When they were all in the right place, I just needed to hold the door up and clip the hinge pieces together.  A few small adjustments to small screws on the hinges made sure that the doors were hanging straight and properly aligned.


Of course, just when you get it all together and working you have to take it all apart to make it pretty.  Everything was sanded starting with 100 grit and moving down to 200 grit.  As an afterthought, all the doors and drawer faces received another pass on the  router to put a Roman Ogee profile on the outside edges.  In order to match the existing cupboards, all I needed to apply was a good coat of satin polyurethane.  If you read my previous post regarding Spray Gun Fun then you know how that went.

 Completed Cupboard

Completed cupboard interior

  And here it is, the completed cupboard.  Everything works the way it is supposed to.  It was all the correct dimensions.  A quick trip to Innisfil to deliver and install it in Rosemary’s kitchen and we were finally done.  The last thing we did was to install the anti-slam devices on the door hinges.  

We are happy that with the way it worked out.  It works very well.  It fits the space, and brings a lot more storage to the kitchen.  The construction was relatively easy, and yet it is quite attractive.  If anyone has questions or comments regarding this cupboard or the techniques used in its construction, please do so below.

Cupboard installed in kitchen

Spray Gun Fun – a Howe not to!

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For quite some time we have been wanting to get a Spray Gun attachment for our compressor. We sometimes have large projects to put a finish on, and thought this would be the easiest way to go about it. Besides, the guys you see using them in videos and adverts are having so much fun and look so cool. Well, as it came to pass we got one for Christmas last year.Pakaging for Critter Siphon Gun

What we received was the Critter Air-Powered Spray Gun from Lee Valley Tools, Ltd.  Now, at first glance it isn’t very impressive.  I mean it’s small, about the size of a cheap garden hose nozzle.  It weighs about the same too. If the box didn’t include a Mason jar you would swear it was empty.  But it only  takes a second to realize that there are no cheap plastic parts, the nozzles and fittings are brass, and the stem is stainless steel.  As always though, the proof of the pudding is in the eating …. 

We had to wait a couple of months until we had a project of such sizable dimension as to warrant the use of the spray gun.  We had been expecting to wait until warmer spring weather so that we could try it outside. However, Rosemary’s Cupboard came about and was just screaming for a coat of polyurethane. 

Out came the gun, a quick read of the instruction sheet, grab a couple of mason jars and fill one with some leftover polyurethane from another job, fill another jar with paint thinner, grab a scrap piece of wood, fire up the compressor, stick the jar of urethane onto the gun, connect the air hose,  OMG we were having so much fun, just like those guys in the adverts …

Now, it should be stated that for safety reasons the follow is advised:

  1. Wear Personal Protection Devices – goggles, mask/respirator, a hat, coveralls, proper footwear,
  2. Work in a Well Ventilated Environment – the sprayer essentially atomizes the liquid you are applying to the material, and a lot of it will remain airborne reaching dangerous levels very quickly,
  3. Be Aware of the Fire Risk – if the finish you are using is flammable, it will be even more so when it is airborne, sparks, cigarettes, open flames should be extinguished or removed if there is any chance that they will come into contact with the airborne particles. 

Of course, we didn’t have any of that ready.  We knew we should, but that would take extra time and we wanted to play with the new toy. 

So, standing there in our street clothes with only a dust mask for protection, we closed the doors to the workshop (didn’t want the sound of the compressor to bother the neighbours, and it was 4°C and raining outside), adjusted the pressure on the compressor, and pulled the trigger … nothing happened.  A lot of air, bit no mist.  We had started out with the compressor set to about 30 psi, but remembered that that was the setting for thin fluids, polyurethane is pretty thick so we would have to turn it up.  We tried a few more times, raising the pressure with each go until we finally reached 70 psi and a beautiful, fine mist blew away from the gun at quite a fast rate, straight across my router table.  Thank god we had thought to get the paint thinner out.

After cleaning off the router table, and throwing drop clothes over it, the table saw, shelves, and workbenches nearby, we tried again.  This time we had it all right.  It worked great.  Nice clean lines, easy to control the spread, and the amount of spray.  We felt that it was time to turn this on Rosemary’s Cupboard.  This is where the gun surprised us the most.  We had been testing a semi-gloss finish, but wanted to apply a satin to the cupboard.  No problem.  Fill another Mason jar with the satin polyurethane, take the semi-gloss off of the gun and put a cap on it, put the Mason jar of paint thinner on the gun and shake it around a bit to clean the stem, spray it into a waste bucket a few times to clear the nozzle, then swap that jar out for the satin finish, and we’re ready to go.  It was really that easy!

The size of the cupboard allowed us to test the sprayer at a lot of angles.  Vertical sides, tops and bottoms of shelves, even slopes when we had to lean the cupboard over to get at the top.  It performed wonderfully the whole time.  The coat apllied nice and even, without runs or streaks.  After applying a coat to everything however, you couldn’t see the other side of the shop for all the polyurethane floating in the air, and it’s a small shop.  That’s about the time we woke up and remember that we shouldn’t neglect basic shop safety. 

While we were spraying we had heard my wife get into her car and drive off.  She usually parks in front of the large shop door.  I figured we could clear the air quicker by opening up both ends of the shop and letting the wind blow it all out.  I threw open the back door,  and depressed the button to lift the large door.  The wind whipped past me picking up clouds of sawdust and depositing it on all the surfaces we had just sprayed, and blew all the floating polyurethane straight out onto the hood and windshield of my wife’s car.  I guess, today she had chosen to take my van.

When the air was clear we closed the doors, cleaned up the gun, put everything away, and headed back into the house.  A quick trip into the washroom to wash up,  and I discovered why cover-alls, hats, and the other personal protective devices are so important.  Every inch of exposed skin, every hair on my head and arms, my clothes, everything had a very thin coating of polyurethane.  I looked like I was covered in a fine frost.  Fortunately, it hadn’t properly set so getting it off was fairly easy.  Had it been on there longer I would have been looking at a sponge bath in paint thinner.  Not something I ever intend to try.

So it was an adventure.  But these are the kind we like – if bad things didn’t happen we wouldn’t have any stories to tell.We’ll have to do a little extra sanding between coats, but nothing was ruined.

Over the next few days we would be applying several more coats.  During these coats we experimented with adjusting the nozzle to deliver different amounts of fluid.  We found it very easy to control, and after a little playing we found a pressure and nozzle setting which worked very well for the polyurethane.  We were also very careful to wear the appropriate clothing and gear, and to ventilate the shop more carefully.

Critter Air-Powered Spray Gun Reviewed:  9 out of 10!  It was amazingly easy to use and clean.  It did everything it was supposed to. The Mason jars make everything so simple, and you don’t have to go out and buy a special paint bottle like most manufacturers make you do.  Its light weight really becomes important after waving it around for an hour or so.  There were only two problems we had (that were not our own fault). First, when you have the hose connected to the gun, you can’t sit it down – it’s too back heavy.  We overcame this by clamping a short bar clamp to the underside of the worktable and hanging the gun over the bar (there is a little hook on top of the gun). Secondly, filling the Mason jars from a full 1 gallon pail was a bit of a pain.  We ended up using a ladle, after spilling it all over the place on the first try.  We’ll be looking around for a better way and let you know if we find something.

So at the end of the day, the Critter Air-Powered Spray Gun is worth every penny!

Check in next week when we’ll be featuring Rosemary’s Cupboard.

The Magical French Cleat

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showing how a French Cleat works.If there is one small trick you pick up along the way, let it be how to use a French Cleat. It is an amazingly strong, versatile, and easy mounting system for almost anything. We use them for hanging awkward pictures, window boxes, birdhouses, and odd and ends around the shop.

The concept is simple. Start with a strip of wood, 1″x3″ works pretty good.  Put a 45° angle on your table saw blade and rip the strip of wood down the center.  This will give you two roughly equal-sized pieces with a 45° bevel on one edge.  One piece will be attached to the wall, the other gets attached to whatever your hanging up.  Then just hook the pieces together as shown in the diagram at left.   That’s about all there is to it.  If you’re hanging a very long picture, you may want to mount another block near the bottom of the picture so that it hangs clean and straight.Showing French Cleat in action

To the right is a photo of  a couple of our drying racks.  We’ve mounted a long strip to the wall, and short strips to the racks.  This way we are able to adjust the spacing of the racks to accomodate different sizes if necessary.  We also have hangers for other purposes that will mount on this cleat, making it very functional and versatile.

These cleats are perfect for hanging cabinets or cupboards.  First, you can level the cleat on the wall, without having to fight with the cabinet. Second, the cabinet is held in place while you secure it to the wall.

Here’s a nice video blog that uses the french cleat as the basis for an entire storage  rack.  Well worth watching in my opinion, he has some good ideas and quickly demonstrates how easy french cleats really are.

Should you use a Jig?

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Jig for tapering table legs on a table saw.Just to confuse things, there are two terms which need to be defined; fixture and jig. We’ll go with the Wikipedia definitions where a fixture is “a workholding or support device [to] hold a workpiece during either a machining operation or some other industrial process”, and a jig is “a type of tool used to control the location and/or motion of another tool”. The main point to grasp is that a fixture holds the material being worked, while a jig guides the tool doing the work. In the common language though, jig has become a general term to refer to either or both cases.

So, back to the question at hand. Should you use a jig? There is only one answer – Yes! Let’s look at why.

FiJig for placing center hole in Whirlwind slats.rst off, a jig gives us control. This can be both a safety and an accuracy concern. Cutting an odd-shaped piece on a table saw is made much easier by mounting the workpiece in a sled-style jig. Using a dovetail jig helps to maintain consistent spacing.

Secondly, a jig allows us to repeat an action on more than one piece. When making our Whirlwinds, we use a small jig on the drill press to ensure the center hole is correctly positioned.

Finally, they save us time and money. You don’t have to calculate and mark each cut, and there is less waste due to mistakes in measuring or while cutting.

With these points in mind, if you have a difficult or awkward operation to perform, or need to perform an action more than once, there are very few arguements for not using a jig. However, there are a couple. Principally, you have to stop working on your project to build a jig, or you have to shell out more cash to buy a commercially available jig.

Stopping to build a jig has not been much of a concern for us. Most of the simple jigs we use only take a couple of minutes to throw together, and that time is recovered when actually using the jig on our projects again and again. More complicated ones require a little more planning but even if it is only used once, the benefit of better quality control and less risk of waste outweighs the time used building the jig.Jig for cutting birdhouse walls on table saw

Cost is an issue on so many projects. As hobbyist woodworkers we’d prefer to put our cash into the project itself, however, here again we have to do some weighing. A homemade jig can be made from scrap wood, so the cost is minimal, but sometimes that just won’t cut it. Commercially available jigs are often easy to use and more versatile than the homemade one will be, but they can get quite pricey. So, we look at it the same way we would a new router bit. Will it do the job? Will we ever use it again? As long as we can answer yes to both questions, it’s pretty likely we’ll be buying one.

We may post about a specific jig in the future, but for now we hope this gets you thinking about the situations where you could have used a jig to simplify a project. There are many examples of woodworker’s jig all over the web, it seems there are as many types of jigs as there are woodworkers, so don’t be afraid to pick through them until you find the one you think will work the best. has a few examples of different jigs to get you started.

Floating Shelves

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We are finally reaching the end of our re-design of the boy’s room. The last step is to hang some shelves across one wall. After looking into a few styles, we decided it would be a good time to try Floating Shelves. The look of them fit into the style of the room, and they have been a bit of a curiosity for us.

Floating ShelvesThere are plenty of descriptions and free plans online to explain how to build and install this style of shelf, so we only spent a few minutes looking them up. Here is one link with some decent videos which was helpful: Ron Hazelton’s Housecalls.

We played with the layout of the shelves, using painter’s tape. After several tries, we finally decided on one long shelf across the top with two lower shelves pushed to the far left. A little time spent finding and marking the studs and we were able to cut and attach spruce 2×2’s to the wall where the shelves were going to go. Then it was out to the shop to start making the shelves themselves.

We ripped some 1x pine into 1.5” strips, then chopped them to the lengths we needed for our frame. Following this, we ripped some 3/8” plywood for the shelf tops and bottoms. And finally, more 1x pine ripped to 2.25” for the facing pieces.

The lower two shelves were easy to figure out – build a frame leaving 1.5” at the back of the shelf for the 2×2, cover it with 3/8” plywood, attach the facing pieces, round over the edges, and sand. Actually, it was a lot easier than we expected. Then, it was on to the top shelf.

The top shelf was to be an 11’ span, from corner to corner, and we were instantly concerned that we wouldn’t be able to maneuver the shelf into place if it was one piece. So, the simple answer would be to split it in half, hang two shelves side by side. We chose to modify the frame for these shelves to accommodate an extra brace to go between the shelves, tying them together. Then, we added overlapping mitres to the facing pieces to make the seam between the two shelves a little less noticeable.

When it was all said and done, these shelves were very easy to make, which makes us wonder why we waited so long to try them. They look good, and seem more than strong enough for general use. And so, from one Woodworking Hobbyist to another, try building a Floating Shelf, even if it’s just for your shed or garage. You will be pleased with the results.

If you do try it, or have built them in the past, please leave a comment. Let us know how it went, or any tricks you picked up along the way.

The Migration Begins Soon.

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Well, it’s that time of year again. The temperatures are beginning to rise, the snow is beginning to melt, and very soon the Snowdrops will be blooming in our backyard. It is also a great time to get ready for the return of our feathered friends. Soon, many of the birds that headed south last fall will return from their winter homes looking for places to raise their new families. Will we be ready?

Many of our native species of birds have suffered declines in numbers due to changes in the modern environments.  Loss of their natural habitats due to mans evergrowing need for resources and space, competition with introduced species like the House Sparrow (who is a lot more aggressive than he appears),  and changes to the available plant-life found in their normal territories are a few of the many factors affecting wild-fowl today.  Finding safe places to nest and feed is becoming more and more difficult with each passing year.

This time of year is great for hanging new bird houses and cleaning up the old ones. Take a few minutes to walk around your property and inspect the nesting boxes.

  • Open up last years nesting boxes and remove any old nests lingering there.
  • Give them the once over to make sure they will survive another breeding season. If they are split, coming apart, or falling off the post it may be time to replace them.
  • Aged looking bird houses are perfect, as most birds prefer a house which blends into it’s surroundings rather than the brightly coloured ‘artistic’ varieties.
  • If the birdhouse hasn’t had any tenants for a while, maybe it’s badly sited. Now would be a good time to move it to a better location.
  • Do you have room for more?
  • Are you attracting the birds you like?

Mounting a few new bird houses now would allow them to weather a bit before they are needed.  In our minds it’s like washing the ‘human’ off.  You’ll also be ensuring that the nesting boxes are in place just in case the birds return a little early.  If you have been keeping bird feeders over the winter, then you’ve managed to address the first two concerns for any returning bird – food and shelter.  Of course, aspects, such as new plantings and birdbaths will have to wait until it is much warmer, but every little bit you can do now is less you have to do later.

When the migratory birds return they immediately begin establishing their territory.  Finding a secure nest site, locating food, and ultimately attracting a mate keeps the birds very busy.  If we can make it a little easier, then perhaps they’ll have more successful broods. And that means more returning birds for next year.  Before long the air will be filled with magical birdsong from sunrise to sunset.

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