My Biggest DIY Project Ever

Posted by John on April 21st, 2015

If you’ve been a regular reader for the past couple of years you know we’ve worked on some pretty sizable home improvement projects since our beginning in 2011.  We completely renovated our home office from the ground up this past fall.  We spent a few months and upgraded our dining room with raised panel wainscoting a couple of years ago.  There were garage projects and major furniture builds along the way too.  I even built my shed from scratch.  However, I’ve barely mentioned or blogged about my biggest home improvement project to date since I started blogging nearly four years ago. 

What was my biggest DIY project ever?  For me, it’s an easy question to answer: the kitchen in my first home.

When I bought my first home back in 2003 it needed a lot of work.  What was wrong with it?  Yes.   Plumbing, electrical, drywall, flooring, the windows, the ceiling, the door, the cabinets, the countertops… all of it was wrong.  

The house was built back at the turn of the previous century and the kitchen was an addition from the 50s or 60s.  I don’t think it was ever updated from it’s original construction.  Amazing it lasted as long as it did.  

I was so overwhelmed with all of the work I had to do to the house that I punted on the kitchen remodel until years later.  I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do with the kitchen, so I didn’t do anything until 2007.  It took me four years to finally get around to gutting it and then building it back from scratch.  There are a lot of things I would’ve done differently with that house, but the kitchen isn’t one of them.  

From 2003 until 2007, I upgraded the rest of the home with new drywall, all new trim, a new furnace, new electrical and refinished the floors.  Most of the work I did myself.  Of course, I hired out some of the more critical items to move things along.  During those four years I was able to build up a level of home improvement competence that I didn’t have when I first bought the house.  I learned what work is best for me to do and which work I can outsource.  

The kitchen renovation started with a demolition party in the spring of 2007 and wasn’t finished until the homemade kitchen cabinets were painted after they were installed well over a year later.  The results of that years worth of work was worth the effort.  We eventually sold the home in two days and the remodeled kitchen was a big reason for that quick sale.  

Sometime in the next few weeks I’m going to be releasing my first product for purchase: a book on how to renovate your kitchen.  Instead of focusing on specific DIY techniques like a lot of our blog posts, I’m concentrating mainly on the planning and exectution of your next kitchen remodel.  For me, the planning was the hardest part of that kitchen remodel.  It took me a few years to get started and I couldn’t do a thing to the space until the planning was done.  If you plan your kitchen renovation well, you’re much more likely to have a successful project.  

The book will focus on the steps you need to take before you start the project and will help guide you through making all of the big decisions that you are bound to run into along the way.  I want to prepare you as best I can for those challenges.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be taking some time to to talk about kitchen renovations prior to the book launch.  If you have any questions about your upcoming kitchen project, now is the perfect time to ask.  

I’m also hoping to get my next set of woodworking plans completed soon.  The table saw station plans are taking slightly longer than I’d like.  

Have a great week!

Posted in DIY Projects,Kitchen. Tagged in ,, ,

Our Next Project: Shadow Boxes

Posted by John on April 13th, 2015

The last couple months have been super busy.  In case you couldn’t tell by my complete lack of posting, I haven’t done a whole lot of home improvement work lately.  Life with three little kids is much more time consuming than it was with two and my free time is just about gone nowadays.  I have maybe two hours every evening after work to either blog, do house projects or other online projects that I’ve started.  It’s a challenge to say the least.

I’m expecting to get back in the swing of things this week with our latest home improvement adventure: shadow boxes.

We’re going to dress up our vestibule with some simple trim work to give the home some more character.  Over the years, I’ve installed a lot of trim, but this will be my first crack at shadow boxes and I’m looking forward to the challenge.  We’ll also be taking the opportunity to upgrade the baseboard trim.

Here’s a shot from our vestibule now.

shadow box before

You can see in the photo that we have chair rail molding already in place.  We installed that back in 2011.  Here’s a link to that tutorial.  The baseboard molding looks pretty puny, so we’re going to pop that off and install the taller stuff.  When we built the house, we were under the impression that the baseboards would be the taller variety.  It was one of the few minor disappointments we had during our walk-thru.

When we renovated our home office, we took advantage of the opportunity and installed the bigger baseboards in there first.  The goal is to have the bigger molding throughout the first floor.  We’ll continue that work with the vestibule and then maybe the living room at a later point.  It’s unlikely that we’ll change the baseboards upstairs.

Here’s a reminder of what those taller baseboards look like.

high baseboards

Pretty nice if you ask me.  Definitely worth the effort to rip out the short stuff.

Now that you know what we’re up to, here’s what you can expect to see and learn during this small project.  I’ll film and explain the essential parts of the work like the sizing, cutting and installation of both the shadow boxes and the baseboard molding.  Even if you aren’t planning on performing this same kind of project in your home, understanding the process should be helpful.

Make sure you stop by later this week.  I’ll be releasing my next set of free woodworking plans.  This time it will be the table saw station.

Have a great week!

Posted in DIY Projects,Trim. Tagged in ,,

3 DIY Projects that STILL Save Me Money

Posted by John on March 29th, 2015

Most of the home improvement projects I’ve done around our home are one-time savings events.  I’m doing the work once and saving money over hiring a contractor one time.  There are a few projects, however, that continue to save me money even though I finished them years ago.  In this post, I’ll share with you three DIY projects that still save me money well after the work has been finished.

1.  Reverse Osmosis System.  Lisa and I installed a reverse osmosis system under our kitchen sink back in 2012 and since then it’s saved us hundreds of dollars.  Instead of purchasing bottled water or using a Brita, the reverse osmosis system has a dedicated tap that we use for drinking water, coffee, tea and even cooking pasta.  How much money it saves depends on how much bottled water you’d normally go through, but here’s an example.  If the average adult drinks 8 servings of 8 oz. of water per day and you have two adults in the house, that’s something like 120+ cases of bottled water in a year.  If a case of Dasani costs $4, then that’s $485 per year in bottled water.  The Whirlpool reverse osmosis system we installed cost $146 and will cost anywhere from roughly $99 to $133 per year to maintain (replacement filter costs).  That represents a savings of approximately $339 the first year and $350 to $385 each additional year.  Those numbers don’t even include water used for tea, coffee or cooking.  That’s just drinking water.

reverse osmosis

2.  A Whole House Surge Protector.  How does a surge protector save you money?  If you ever get a power surge or a power outage, your electronics can be damaged if they are not properly protected.  The year we moved into our current home, we had three or four power outages.  Before the power went out, the lights would flicker on and off for a few seconds.  When that power is flickering, it could be going above and below the amount your electronics can safely handle and cause it to fail.  One option to protect your equipment is to connect your computer to an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS), which can usually filter out those power spikes as well as provide a backup power source to give you time to safety turn off your computer.  An UPS is a smart idea for computers, but for the rest of your home a whole house surge protector can be a smart idea to help prevent damage to flat screen televisions and other electronics and appliances.  It gets installed directly to your circuit breaker box and will filter out those power surges from affecting your home.  It’s much cheaper to purchase and install a surge protector then to replace all of your electronics.

 

surge protector

3.  Outdoor Lighting Timer and LED Bulbs.  By now, if you aren’t using LED or compact flourescent light (CFL) bulbs then you know that you are spending more for your lighting costs than you should.  Despite the fact that we were using LED bulbs for our exterior garage lights, we were still wasting energy by having them on all day.  We would try to turn them off in the morning and off again in the evening, but it’s an easy chore to forget.   The longer the lights are on, the quicker they’ll burn out and there’s no reason for them to be on during the day.  To correct this issue, we installed a lighting timer to automatically turn the lights on and off for us.  It was fairly simple to wire up and now we don’t have to worry about it.  The lights will last longer and we get the added security of a well lit house at night.  Boom.  Time and money saved.

LED-garage-lights-1024x682

 

installed-light-timer-switch-1024x682

How are your home improvement projects saving you money?

Posted in DIY Projects,Electrical,Plumbing. Tagged in ,, , ,

What I’ve Been Up to

Posted by John on March 16th, 2015

It’s been a couple of weeks since my last blog post and although I haven’t been doing any home improvement work, I’ve been super busy with a different kind of project that I think you’ll appreciate.  Last spring, I started work on my first book!

Over the past few weeks I’ve been lucky enough to find some free time to really wrap that work up and I’m happy to report that I’m just about finished.  I’m expecting to make the book widely available for purchase before May.

Here’s a look at the new cover.



Here’s the details…

The book is a guide on remodeling kitchens and it’s aimed at the handy and the not so handy alike.  If you’ve been a regular reader for the past couple of years you know that I try to explain the detailed process of home improvement whenever possible.  I try to put myself in the shoes of someone who is just starting out.  I’ve tried to take that approach with this book and layout the kitchen renovation process from start to finish.   It reads more like a conversation with me about your kitchen project and that was my intention.

Before you get too excited, it’s not going to be available at Barnes and Nobles or any other store.  I’ve decided to self-publish it and make it available as en ebook.  I’m going to be setting up a separate website for it and I’ll let everyone know when it’s available.  I’m not going to publish it on Amazon either, although I may make it available in the Kindle format.

I plan on giving away several copies in advance to some email subscribers and then launch with an initial discount for a few days.  So if you’re interested in this book, make sure you sign up for the newsletter if you want the discount code when it’s released.

Later this spring I plan on putting together a second book as a companion to this one so stay tuned for that one as well.

It’s been really challenging writing a book with three young children, one of which is a newborn.  Finding time to write a 300 word blog post is one thing.  Finding time to work on a 30,000 word ebook is quite another.

Here’s what else is going on…

I’ve started a Facebook Group where you can post, comment, ask questions and share photos of your projects.  It’s exactly like our Forum Page, but it’s open to everyone.  You just need to click the Join button and as soon as I approve you, you’re good to go.  It’s a bit more user friendly than our Forums Page so I thought I’d give it a try.  If you have any home improvement projects you’re currently working on, I’d love to read about it over on the Group Pages!

Thanks and have a great week!

Posted in Blogging. Tagged in ,, ,

Video: How to Build a Medicine Cabinet

Posted by John on February 26th, 2015

In this post, you’ll learn:
– How to build a medicine cabinet

How to Build a Medicine Cabinet

Well I wanted to show you this medicine cabinet completely finished and painted, but I think it may be a little while longer before it gets warm enough to spray paint it.  Maybe I’ll just brush paint it with a few coats instead.  We’ll see.  In any case, I was able to capture the build process for an instructional video.

Here are the tools and resources I used to build this cabinet.

1.  The mirror and glass shelf were from One Day Glass.
2.  The door hinges.
3.  The door latch.
4.  The router bit is a pattern plunge bit.
5.  The shelf pins.

Any questions?

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.

Posted in Carpentry,DIY Projects. Tagged in ,,

5 Tips for Dealing with Project Burn Out

Posted by John on February 15th, 2015

Happy Sunday everybody!  We finally got started with our new medicine cabinet project and I’m hoping to show you the video next week.  The build is going very fast.  I’ve only put in around 2 hours of work and I’m nearly finished.  Ideally, I’ll be painting it later this week.  That’s going to be a challenge in this bitterly cold weather, but I’ll figure it out.

finish a project

In today’s post, I wanted to talk about project burn-out.  Project burn-out comes in all forms.  It’s not just mental or physical exhaustion.  Often times for me, it’s just a general lack of motivation.   During the week it’s especially hard to overcome.  After work, I get home and eat dinner with the wife and kids, have some family time and then after the kids are in bed, I maybe have an hour or two for projects or writing.  So that means I can either do some DIY work or skip it and do something else, but I can’t do a ton of stuff.  That small window of time makes it really, really easy for me to blow off a home improvement project.

When I’m in the middle of a huge project, like when we were remodeling our home office, taking a couple nights a week off can drag that project on for a longer time than I’d like.  In fact, sometimes with the larger projects it can feel like you’re never going to finish them.

I know what that’s like.  It’s no fun.  Home improvement projects are hard enough technically.  Add to that the stress of working on your house for several weeks and months and it can get to you.

Here are 5 tips for dealing with project fatigue that will help get you through those DIY doldrums.  These tips are strategies I use when I’m knee deep in  drywall dust and still have weeks and weeks more work ahead of me.

1.  Take a Break.  Intentionally take some time off.  In fact, plan those breaks ahead of time.  Taking some time off away from the project space is probably the best way to recharge your mental batteries.  If you’re physically tired or just tired of working, taking a night or two off from a project is supremely helpful.  After a long day at work, sometimes you just need to skip the project and relax.  Catch a movie or go to bed extra early are a couple options.  This  is especially true if you are stuck.  Go clear your head for a while.

2. Get Ready for the Next Work Day Ahead of Time.  Often times when I’m starting day two or three of a multi-day job, I’ll waste maybe 30 minutes or more just setting up my tools and materials.  So instead of doing your setup for day two during day two, setup for day two at the very end of day one.  After a couple hours of work on day one, you’ll probably be in a groove and setting up for the next day will be easier than doing it later.  You can even leave a note for yourself reminding you of where you stopped last time.  This technique can be effective since it makes it easier for you to start the project again and get busy working right away.  Some examples of prep work you can do the day before include setting up the table saw with the right blade, adjusting the fence setting and blade height or putting the router bit in the router.

3.  Smaller Tasks and Smaller Time.  If you really need to work on your projects, but don’t want to take on any big power tool work, you can always concentrate on some smaller maintenance tasks.  These smaller tasks include cleaning up your work space, putting away tools you’re finished using and doing some of those minor chores that slow you down.  If you have two hours to work before bed time you can always just do these smaller tasks for just an hour and take the other hour off.  It will feel like you kept working and moving the project along even if you didn’t do a whole hell of a lot.

4.  Motivate Yourself.  What pumps you up?  Heavy metal music?  A coffee?  Whatever it is, try to incorporate it into your work schedule to keep yourself moving.  For me, I love putting on some AC/DC to keep my blood pumping and I try to have a little bit of caffeine with dinner if I want to avoid fatigue.  Just don’t go crazy.  If you’re going to be using power tools, you still want to be calm and careful.

5.  Ask for Help.  A great way to break up the monotony of a big project is to enlist the help of a friend or family member for a night.  Obviously having another set of hands will help move the project along, but it will also get you talking about the project.  Talking about the project can be motivational.  I know it is for me.

I hope this tips help you get through your next long project!  If you found this post helpful, please share it.

What techniques do you use to use to stay motivated and avoid project burn out?

Posted in Lessons Learned. Tagged in ,, ,

Child Safety and Your Home

Posted by John on February 5th, 2015

In this post you’ll learn:

- How to keep your furniture from tipping 
– About other child safety devices for your home

As a Philadelphia Eagles fan (womp womp), I’m usually not rooting for a team actually playing in the Super Bowl.  I’m more a fan of the spectacle and of course the commercials.  This year was sort of a downer in terms of the tone of the commercials, especially the Nationwide Insurance spot with the dead kid.  Yikes.  Where’s Paul Harvey when you need him?

Years ago, before I had kids, those sorts of messages never resonated with me.  I never thought they were depressing.  At. All.  Wouldn’t of bothered me one bit.  After I had my first daughter (I now have three), something inside me flipped like a switch and now that stuff will stick with me for days on end.  My wife and I are pretty careful parents, so we take extra measures to make sure our kids are safe in our house.  However, no matter how safe I think our home is, seeing images of overturned clothes dressers or flat screen televisions on the floor is pretty disturbing.

The next day or so, I added some more safety devices around our place and I want to show you what we did in hopes of gently reminding you to add your own gear if you have little kids in your house.

The first is the flat screen TV in our family room.  It’s not mounted to the wall and even though it’s got a pretty wide base making it hard to tip over, we figured better safe than sorry.  We installed these two anti-tipping straps to the back.  The get secured to the top of the TV stand.  Here’s an Amazon link to the straps if you need them.  (affiliate)

anti tipping straps

If you look closely, you’ll also notice a bracket on the wall.  There’s a matching bracket on the stand and between them is a plastic zip tie that keeps the base from tipping over as well.  If I ever need to move the stand away from the wall, I just need to take a pair of scissors and cut the zip tie.  No big deal.  We also used the same bracket setup for all of our girls’ dressers.

Here’s a picture of one installed on the back of a Hemnes:

metal bracket on hemnes

You need to make sure it gets screwed into the thick part of dresser structure and not just the thin back plane.  From the front you can see the thicker wooden strip.

hemnes dresser inside

Other than those pieces, we have the standard compliment of baby/toddler proofing devices throughout the home.  You can read about that stuff in an earlier post here.

Here’s the basic rundown of the rest of our kid-proofing gear:

1.  Cabinet Locks (multiple kinds)
2.  Door Knob Covers (great for bathrooms, bedrooms and pantry doors)
3.  Gate at the top of the stairs.  Gates near the bottom

Our setup has evolved somewhat as they’ve gotten older and it’s still a challenge.  It’s just something we need to stay on top of.

If you have any small children in your home, I hope you’re using the necessary safety hardware.

That’s all I have for this week.  This weekend I’m going to get started on the medicine cabinet!  Thanks!

Posted in DIY Projects. Tagged in ,, ,

Slider4

Posted by John on February 1st, 2015

Posted in Banner Images,home. Tagged in

Let’s Build a Medicine Cabinet Part 1

Posted by John on January 28th, 2015

In this post you’ll learn:

- The first steps to build a medicine cabinet

For a few years now I’ve been itching to build a medicine cabinet.  I’m not really sure why.  I guess I never liked the idea of paying a couple hundred bucks for a small painted box.  They’re pretty simple after all.  I had thought about building one for my first house, but I never got around to it.  So when I noticed my sister and her husband were making some upgrades around their house I offered to build them one, especially since they had already ripped their old one out.  They have a 1950’s bathroom with most of the original features and it’s in pretty good condition.  When I was over for the holidays they were using the space where the old medicine cabinet had been.

medicine cabinet hole

For this project, I pitched a few different designs to them.  They settled on a variation of a Restoration Hardware cabinet, more specifically, the Cartwright model.  We’re going to keep the overall scale and hardware, but skip the crown molding.  It’ll be a little more plain, but should blend in better with the existing decor.

cartwright medicine cabinet

(via Restoration Hardware)

This is how this project is going to work.  In this post we’re going to discuss the design, dimensioning, material and some of the other critical elements.  Then in our next medicine cabinet post, we’ll show a video on how to actually build the cabinet.  I would like to keep this series down to two or three posts at most.  If you’d like to read a more in-depth cabinet building series, you can check out our work on the TV stand we did a while ago.

Allright?  Ready to get started?  Let’s build a medicine cabinet!

Let’s start with the existing space.  There’s obviously a hole in the wall.  The medicine cabinet we’re going to build will recess into that hole.  A recessed cabinet will be a big space saver and they won’t need to patch the walls.  All I need to get started dimensioning the cabinet now are the dimensions of the hole in the wall.  I marked up the photo of the room and emailed it to my sister for her to take some measurements.

Here’s what I emailed her:

opening

I asked her to provide me a dimension for each one of those letters.  For the opening width and height, which are letters A and B, I asked her to take measurements at three locations: the left, right and middle (or top, middle and bottom).  I want the smallest of those three dimensions.  If I asked her for just the width and it turns out that the hole is slightly wider at the top than the bottom, then I could end up building the cabinet too large.  I want to make sure it will fit so we’ll build to the smallest width and the smallest height.

Since the wall is plaster and has some left over markings from the previous cabinet, I’d like the new cabinet to hide those markings.  So by asking for dimensions E and F, I can figure out how big the frame needs to be to cover that stuff.  The measurement at point D is the distance to the top of the wall tile.  I want to make sure the cabinet doesn’t touch it.

My sister took all those measurements and emailed them back to me.

At this point, I can start figuring out what the design will look like, how it will be built and how big each piece should be.  If you’re comfortable drawing this out on paper, you could use that approach.  Personally, I’m a big fan of SketchUp, so I prefer to draw my cabinets in that program.  While it’s fairly easy to use, it also has the added advantage of allowing me to show you nice rendered images of the design.

I started the drawing by sketching out a plain wall with a hole in it.  Then I gave the wall some thickness.  With that part out of the way, I drew a basic four sided box, which will be the insides of the medicine cabinet.

medicine-cabinet-box

You can see I left some space around all four sides of the box; about a 1/4″.  The depth of the box is also 1/4″ shorter than the depth of the hole.  Too small is probably OK.  Too big is going to be a problem.  You can see from the illustration that the box bottom and top will be assembled together using grooves in the box sides.  I didn’t draw a back piece, but you can just figure out its dimensions from these four pieces.  SketchUp has a tape measure tool, so after I had all four pieces drawn I could measure the dimensions of each one and write them down.

After the box parts were drawn and dimensioned, I turned my attention to the face frame.  The face frame will be attached to the box and will cover the open area around the box and also part of the wall.  Here’s what that frame looks like attached to the box.

medicine-cabinet-frame

The frame consists of a top and bottom rail board and two stile (aka side) boards.  The face frame will be assembled using pocket screws and it’ll be probably be attached to the box using pocket screws as well.  Pretty straight forward construction.

Now onto the door.  The door will be inset into the frame of the door, just like in the Restoration Hardware design.  Inset screams custom and it’s pretty much the only doors I like to build!!  They’re also pretty easy to make.  I’m going to draw the doors with a 1/8″ gap all the way around, just for the sake of the image, but in reality, I’ll make them the same size as the opening and then gently trim them down to their final size.

For the sake of clarity, I’ve dressed up the SketchUp drawing with a tile lip and some pink walls to match the photo.  I didn’t draw any hardware or a beveled mirror, although I’m sure you could do that if you wanted to.

medicine-cabinet-2

With the door drawn, I’ll write down the dimensions.  I’ll need to order a mirror and glass shelves as well, but I’ll get more into that in the next video post.  It’s also important to think about what sort of hinges or latch hardware will be required and to order it all in advance.  The box material will be birch plywood and the frame and door will be made from poplar.  While there are a lot of material options to choose from, I happen to have a lot of poplar and birch plywood laying around my shop.  Should be able to build most of it with scrap wood!

That’s it for this post. Hopefully you have a solid understanding of how I sized the cabinet and where we’re going from here.

Thanks and stay tuned.

Feel free to ask any questions in the comments and please share this post if you enjoyed it.

Posted in Carpentry,Design,DIY Projects. Tagged in ,, , , ,

How to Fix a Door That Won’t Shut

Posted by John on January 25th, 2015

Since we just wrapped up the biggest home improvement project we’ve had in years, we decided to keep the next few jobs more low key.  There’s a laundry list of little things I need to fix around the house.  The most annoying one by far involves a couple of our interior doors.

**But if you like our furniture builds, you’ll be happy to hear we’re starting another smaller build later this week.**

But let’s get back to the doors.  We have two interior doors that have a problem.  They don’t stay shut.  One of them is our first floor powder room door.  So when we have company, somebody invariably gets a door opened on them by accident.  No fun.

To get the door to close you have to lift the door by the handle to get the lock to engage the strike plate.  It’s gotten pretty annoying.

Now if you’ve been a reader for a while, you may remember we fixed this problem before on one of our closet doors.  I’ll reuse one of the images from that post to explain how this works.  We’re going to fix it differently this time around though.

door sag

Basically, the weight of the door over time can cause a gap at the top hinge to open up and will also close the gap at the bottom most hinge.  When this shift happens, the lock no longer lines up with the strike plate.  So to fix it, you need to lift the door back up.

So how do we fix it?

Well, the first time we wrote about this we used a piece of cardboard and stuffed it behind the hinge.  That worked for a little while, but over time the door sag returned.

Here’s how we fixed it this time and for good.

How to Fix a Door that Won’t Shut

We’ll start by taking a quick look at our bathroom door jamb.  You can see the gap between the door and the jamb is pretty tight at the bottom.  It’s pretty much touching at the bottom of the door.

door jamb bottom

The gap at the top is pretty wide open.

jamb top

Alright.  So, the goal is to open up the gap at the bottom and close the gap at the top.  We can do that by taking off the bottom hinge from the door jamb and shimming it out.

Here’s the bottom hinge.

door hinge before

We’ll remove the three screws on the jamb side.

hinge removed

Then I’m going to take some stainless steel washers and set one over each of the screw holes.  If they won’t stay put for you, you’ll have to rest them on the screws.

washers behind hinge

Now I’m going to use some 1″ long stainless steel screws that I bought separately and I’ll reattach the hinge to the jamb.  I’m not reusing the original screws since now they’re probably not long enough anymore.

longer hinge screws

With the hinge back in place, I’m all done.  The door closes and latches normally.  Success!

door jamb fixed

 

You can even see the bottom gap has opened up, which is why the door lock has lifted.  We actually had to use two washers behind each hinge screw for our upstairs closet door.

I hope this post will help you fix any sagging door issues in your home!  If you think this post is helpful, please share it!

Thanks!

Posted in Repairs. Tagged in ,,

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