Basic Hand Tools List, For Getting Started

by | Aug 7, 2015 | 38 comments

Today I want to talk about basic hand tools, which are new, cheap and practical.

There’s been a huge interest in the second hand tool market in recent years. Second hand prices are variable, but on the whole they’re popular because they’re cheap.

Cheap is an awful word, easily taken to mean low quality, even when that’s not the intension. When we’re getting started cheap is good, because we need to get a feel for things.

hand tools list - basic kit for getting started

Simple Quality, Not Cheap & Nasty

This discussion is for Joe who asked a question a couple of weeks ago. He has exciting news, that a decent grant has been made available to transform his high school woodworking classes in to being traditional and hand tool based. (I hope we’re getting back to you quick enough Joe!).

This is a US high school setting up with basic tool kits for students from 12 – 13yrs upwards.

In this case it’s school policy that states that the tools have to be new. Though I’m sure Joe isn’t in a unique spot in his hunt. Many people will prefer to go new, and get set up with some basic hand tools that are both affordable and functional.

The second hand tool market can be unreliable, and if we hope to see the use of hand tools increase in the future, then we should never shun the idea of supporting new manufacturers – good working tools is where it all starts.

This isn’t a discussion for exotic works of art, nor cheap rubbish that won’t last.

Finding new, basic hand tools, that are built to do the job, do it well and nothing more, is perhaps one of the least talked about areas of tool buying.

Joe is fortunate to have some of the basics already, and with generous donations from Stanley as well. In my hand tools list below I’ve focused on what Joe’s still looking to buy, for the new woodworking kits.

The Basic Hand Tools List:

I believe the key to getting started, is to resist buying everything super cheap. Instead, buy tools of a moderate quality that will last well, but keep this to only the very minimum tools.
When you get going, you’ll realise that you need very few tools, and that extra quality will pay off as you learn.

Hand saws –

There aren’t all that many options for panel saws under $200, but in my opinion Pax (Thomas Flinn) make the most cost effective working examples.

The blades are excellent and though I’ve always noted that the handle on the cheaper models is questionable (you feel a little like you need to wear a gardening glove to hold it) I think it’s a fair compromise.

I also wouldn’t dismiss the hard point saw route. For the intended purpose, this is the most cost effective route, and will save the feeling of ‘oh bugger’ I’ve got 20 saws to sharpen, every now and then!


Small tenon / dovetail saws –

I really don’t think you’re going to do better than the Veritas.

These seem to have been designed for this placement in the market where they meet the right balance of quality and price. I’ve used them and they are excellent, with the added benefit that the steel is harder than normal so they stay sharp for a bit longer. A great addition to any tool kit.


Small Bench planes –

The brief here is that they are lighter than a No. 4 Sweetheart plane so that students of all ages can handle them.

My first instinct is to say get some irons and have the students build their own wooden planes – a nice project as well as cheap and light weight tool.

If you feel that wooden planes are not the easiest to learn with (getting going probably requires a longer attention span) then I suppose we’re looking at the Bailey pattern planes.

Many modern plane manufacturers go down the ‘well built’ heavy route which makes for beautiful solid tools, whereas the Bailey pattern is much more economic with materials. A No. 3 would be very practical for small hands & I’ve found one here by ‘Faithful’ so they are still made at this size. They won’t ever perform perfectly out of the box but for very little work these cheaper tools can all work very well. The irons in these will be thin so quick to sharpen & repair; a massive benefit to the teacher.

If the budget can stretch then the planes are a good place to put it. Any of the small Veritas or Lie Nielsen examples will be fantastic and you’re not going to have any of the fettling to worry about.


Scrub planes –

Since we’re getting in to specialist tools here I think any of the dedicated ones are pretty pricey. The best bet would probably be to camber up a cheaper Bailey pattern plane. Perhaps it’s possible to just double up on the irons for the bench planes – not the ideal scrub plane but functional and good for saving money.


Marking gauges –

These are another fantastic project tool, or there are many available cheaply that still function very well, I know a lot of the Marples ones are spoken highly of. For children I suppose the less gimmicks on it the better so I’d avoid the wheel gauges.
Consider getting the cutting gauges instead of the pin as the knife edge can go across the grain better, although it’s easily possible to convert the pin to more of a knife edge.


Your Choice When It Comes To Basic Hand Tools?

This list may seem a little unorthodox but don’t forget we’re on a budget and can’t go second hand.
My recommendations are always limited to my own experience. I’d be most grateful if you could put your own thoughts on getting started with hand tools in to the comments. I’m sure that Joe would appreciate all of the opinions that we can muster.

How would you go about setting up a basic set of hand tools?


P.S Chapter Two of the Spoon Rack has gone up today and we’ve made a start on the joinery. Don’t forget to check out our new Premium Video Series if you haven’t already.


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About Richard Maguire

About Richard Maguire

As a professional hand tool woodworker, Richard found hand tools to be the far more efficient solution for a one man workshop. Richard runs 'The English Woodworker' as an online resource and video education for those looking for a fuss free approach to building fine furniture by hand. Learn More About Richard & The English Woodworker.


  1. Joe Laviolette

    I am about the cheapest woodworker I know. You can do very well on a budget, but just keep in mind what you save in cash, you will spend in sweat equity (effort). There

    MAKE YOUR OWN TOOLS!! I made all of my own planes mostly from scrap wood and used irons. They can be seen here ( A plane is simply a jig that holds a chisel at a fixed angle.

    Marking gauges are also easy to make. I really like this camlock style. Once you get the details sorted out, making more is about an hour of your time –

    For dovetail/joinery saws, I agree. It’s really hard to beat the veritas. However the “deer brand” gents saw is very inexpensive. Out of the package, it’s shaped like a saw – and that’s about all it has going for it. The steel is decent though. If you properly sharpen and set the teeth and make a proper pistol grip handle, it’s a great fine toothed saw for around $16 US.

    • Salko

      very nice

    • Tony

      Hi Joe
      I would just like to congratulate you on a fine collection of planes, they are a very nice set. When you made your first one did you use the “Lamination” method ?


  2. Brian Eve

    This is a good list. What would you recommend for inexpensive chisels?

    Also, for this application I wouldn’t turn up my nose at a Japanese saw. You can get a really nice Ryoba from Dictum for about 30 Euros, and replacement blades are only about 20 Euros. When they wear out or get bent, they make excellent scraper stock. I am sure that there are similar Japanese saws available in the US.

    • Glen C

      Aldi chisels. $6.99 US twice a year at an Aldi grocery store, ash handles, and will take and keep an edge. They’re metric widths, no matter where in the world they’re sold.

      • Glen C

        And now I’m laughing, because I left this reply before I read the rest of the comments!

  3. Matthew Sackman

    Just to second the suggestion for Japanese saws. They are fast, easy to learn to use, cheap, and the blades last a long long time. These days I never pick up my western-style saws.

  4. Polly Becton

    For a scrub plane, Harbor Freight has an inexpensive Bailey No. 4 (approximate light-weight “sorta-copy”) that won’t do too well as a smoother, but with a radiused blade and a bit of attention to the mouth might do very nicely as a scrub plane. Unless the kids make their own wood-bodied scrub planes, it would be very hard to beat the price of the HF stuff. (And maybe not then, as good blades are expensive. Those that come with the HF #4 aren’t likely to be the longest edge holding blades, but the kids need to learn sharpening and a soft plane iron gives ’em plenty of opportunity to practice.

    And HF is EVERYWHERE in the US.

    For chisels, I have heard good things about the Aldi set from that other Brit guy. They’re in US Aldi stores now and are very modestly priced. There aren’t as many Aldi stores as there are Harbor Freight outlets, but with a call ahead to make sure they are in stock, it might be worth a road trip to pick up the required number of sets.

  5. Barry lowis

    I have to say I bought a pack of 4 Aldi chisels for about £7 and I am very pleased with the performance of them, they sharpen to a really good edge and hold it well, great for rough and tumble work. Paul Sellers uses them for his students. I believe Paul said they are available in the states now. But as with all Aldi kit they are not available all of the time.

    • Joe Laviolette

      I bought a set in the states in late May. I haven’t seen them since but I understand they will come back around near the holidays. I like them, but I hate the handles so I turned myself some new ones.

  6. Jonas Bertilsson

    About the chisels, take a look at the ones sold by Aldi. Google “Paul Sellers chisels” and read what he and many others has to say about them. I have a set but haven’t had time to use them that much yet. I think they are around 10 dollars for a set of 4.

  7. Jonas Bertilsson

    Sorry for the Aldi-echo:-)

  8. Wolfram

    If you want a well-performing scrub-plane I suggest to look for a used german wooden Scrup-Plane made by ECE or ULMIA brand. You can get them in the german ebay for less than 20 EUR and their Irons are excellent quality. The plan body is light and has a nice gripp.

    • peter

      Since viewing a scrub plane vidio by Richard ( That I cannnot re find ). At the time I chased down on net ECE scrub plane. I found them to be very expensive, over the top for a scrub plane. I read your comment, I live in Australia, and am enquireing as to how to access german ebay. Have extremly basic computer skills. Could you possibly point me in the right direction, on both issue. 1. how to access german ebay. 2. do you happen to have the link to Richards ECE scrub plane vidio. I cannot re-fine, and Richard cannot recall it either. Many Thanks Peter
      August 7th, 2015

      If you want a well-performing scrub-plane I suggest to look for a used german wooden Scrup-Plane made by ECE or ULMIA brand. You can get them in the german ebay for less than 20 EUR and their Irons are excellent quality. The plan body is light and has a nice gripp.

      • Ian M. Stewart

        Hi Peter,

        Someone else will respond, I’m sure, but I’ll jump in with my ha’porth. My ‘scrub’ plane is a converted Stanley 4-1/2 which I bought off eBay UK. It came with a broken tote, rusted body and blade. The features you need in a scrub plane are:
        1. A narrow(ish) blade, re-ground to a nice convex curve.
        2. A mouth wide enough to let the curved cutting edge protrude somewhat, and still let the shavings through unimpeded. The mouth probably will need to be widened with a file.
        3. Not too long. Say 8 to 10 inches.
        4. The sole need not be truly flat, just nearly flattish.

        Given these criteria, almost any small bench plane can be modified into a scrub plane. Even the cheap vintage planes such as Anant would make a scrub plane. Many people prefer the No.4. If you like the idea of a wooden one, then again any small(ish) wooden plane can be modified along the same lines. Here in the UK there are lots of ex-school wooden smoothing planes available very cheaply. One of those would make a good choice. The beat-up planes make a better project for this, then you are not ruining an otherwise good plane.

        I’ve heard there is an active eBay in Australia, and I suspect you can pick up a suitable plane there without limiting yourself to those two recommended German planes.

  9. Joe

    Wow, thanks Richard for putting some thought into this and devoting an entire post to it! And thanks to all of the commentators adding input.

    I wound up going with pax handsaws, veritas dovetail saws, and marbles gauges, as you coincidentally suggested Richard. As you mention, planes have been the tough purchase to make. Woodriver brand no. 4s seemed to be the best option here in the U.S. I haven’t received them yet, but will let you know how they do once I’ve used them a bit. As for scrub planes, I agree with the comment about ece brand- I’ve used and enjoyed them, and at $89 they hit the price point we needed. I figured too that it was good to get kids trained on wooden planes using scrubs, and maybe we’ll move to making are own wooden smoothing planes from there.

    Stanley donated some Bailey chisel sets, which seem to be decent, along with their new sweetheart no 4 planes ( personally don’t care for them), block planes, and shoulder planes.

    So we’re off to a decent start. School starts back next week, so I’ll report back and let you know how it goes!

    Anybody have ideas for a progression of projects to build skills?

    If anybody ever makes their way to Floyd, Virginia, a pint is on me! Thanks all!

    • Jeff

      Hey, Joe!
      What a great thing you are doing for your shop class!
      My 12 year old son just started in the “shop” program last year in our school system and was sad to report that it’s all CAD drawings and electric tooling….
      Fortunately we have our own hand wood working shop at home to compensate.
      As to the progressive projects, you might start with a simple open top tool tote (I call it a “fencing box”).
      I used a simple design to teach the kids in our local Boy Scout troop the basics from design and figuring up a bill of material and cost to lay out for the most efficient use of materials to using the correct hand tools to get the job done.
      Because this was a project for the younger Cub Scouts we were not allowed to use power tools and that worked out just fine for me.
      We all had a great time and the totes turned out very well too.
      By the way, because we used a 1″ diameter wooden dowel for the handle we had to drill the holes in the end plates with my old hand cranked post drill.
      No hand tool only shop is truly complete without one of these drills and the kids from the troop still talk about it.
      The best of luck in your efforts!


  10. Rob Stoakley

    For the best low price Bailey pattern plane on the market, look no further than the Axminster Rider No4. Loads of 5* reviews on the website.
    Best scrub is the Ulma.
    Marking gauges…make your own, even better and more economical.
    Veritas saws for pushers, Japanese Gyokoucho for pullers.
    Anything recommended by Peter Sellers I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole…

    • Polly Becton

      Why the ad hominem attack? Did he drive a nail in your cabinet door? Can’t we all just get along?

    • Mike Smith

      Agreed, Peter Sellers was a fine comedian and actor, but as far as his woodworking went, he was terrible. I feel I can say that now since he’s passed.
      Oddly enough, there is a woodworking guy named Paul Sellers, who I credit for my keen interest in learning about woodworking. He has a remarkable way of teaching and is quite classy about it. Much like Richard here.
      He provides his experience and knowledge without demeaning others, and without acting as if his way is the only way.
      He says things like “Here is how I was taught”, or “this is what my master taught me”. I met him a few years ago at a woodworking show in New Jersey. Hes the same guy as you see on youtube – Genuine and excited to teach and pass on his knowledge.

      It’s how men, especially skilled men, conduct themselves. Which is something I find compelling and refreshing these days. You might check him out one day if you have time. He’s had nice things to say about the axminster plane and it’s clones too, so I think you’ll be pleased.

      • Sean

        Mike, Thumbs up to this. I thought exactly the same when I read the intial post. Given the amount of experience and knowledge Paul obviously has then if he recommends something then it goes *on* my wish list. Same with all the above as well! Richard and Paul = straightforward down to earth advice and a wealth of knowledge I am keen to learn from.

  11. Brent

    In the US, Narex is the best Cheap Chisels at $30 (Highland Woodworking) for a set of four chisels, but their handle are large and may be too large for the hands of teens. After that Stanley 750 would be a good choice at $80 for set of 4 and $165 for a set of 8 at Amazon. I don’t own either but have used both and like the Stanley 750 fit in the hand better that my Two Cherry chisels.

    On new planes the cheapest that I would buy are the Woodcraft’s Wood River No. 3 and No. 4, I saw and held all the plane Chris Gochnour was testing for Fine Woodworking a few years ago and any new plane under $100 looked and preformed like junk.

    I have but don’t use my low-angle block plane very often so I would only by a few.

    Shoulder plane I would get a large veritas with 1 ¼ inch wide or Stanley 93 with 1 wide blade. You only need 1 or 2 for a group of 12 of people.

    I own and like the Veritas Dovetail saw. I like Veritas wheel marking gauges. Veritas Workshop Striking Knife is also nice.

    Shinwa sliding T Bevel 8″ Blade, It is one the best bevels because it locks and holds its angle better that the petty wood ones.
    Stanley Spoke Shave with Flat Base for cleaning up saw marks on round or curves work. about $18 @ amazon

    Eclipse Coping Saw @ Amazon $16
    Bahco Card scraper
    Estwing 12 oz Double Face Soft Hammer @ Home Depot for $15, Paul Sellers recommends this type of hammer to use with chisels, I bought one and I like it. has good prices on PEC Combination Squares.

  12. Stefan

    There is a Stanley saw which is sharpable. The number is 1-20-010.
    The saw has got all pupose filed teeth. But it’s easy to file them to a rip cut.
    And if you will find the time replace the plastic handle with a nice selfmade one.
    Oh, the price is between 15 to 20 Euro.
    I guess it is worth the effort.

  13. JMe

    I use RST RC038 Beech Marking Gauge, they cost about £5, I rounded off corners to fit my hand and repositioned positioned the pin diagonally which I filed to a chisel point, Your students may have small hands so it may help.

    The first thing I would make is a pine bench hook with shooting edge using dado joints. I think its a simple vital tool which unfortunately get ruined. It also highlights making your own tools and the importance of squaring up and dimensioning. After that maybe dovetail box making – single then double.

    Well done Joe btw – I think what your’re doing is brilliant.

  14. Joe

    Again, thanks all- some great suggestions in here, and a couple of brands I didn’t know about.

    My big stumbling block right now is workbenches. I have about $4000 to spend on them, and need to have 10 workstations (2 students paired up at each one). I know the best solution is to build them ourselves, but I’m daunted by taking this massive project on with 20 13-year-olds who have never measured anything in their lives, much less hand planed or cut a board.

    I checked out Windsor designs “solid hardwood” bench at harbor freight, and it is utter crap. I see it falling apart within weeks of use by those kids. I could make some modifications and try to beef it up, but I hesitate to try to make something so crappy work.

    Sjobergs has a lower-end model at $400- anybody ever see/use it? I’m nervous because of the weight- only comes in at 60 pounds, wondering if it can handle planing without rocking. Bolting to the floor is an option I suppose.

    Any other ideas?

    • Gavin

      This is probably going to sound atrocious, but having done so in the past it is a viable option. If you can get solid core doors at a reasonable price, seconds work great, and use a combination of construction methodology and traditional joinery in box construction a very solid option can be built. I have built a couple of benches- no expert and the current one I am using has these at its core. I had a concrete slab to build on as a work area with a couple of sawhorses, little time and a lot of second hand material from construction. The top was about 1600mm long to suit the small space it was going in. The ‘legs’ were another door cut down to two sections and housed across the width of the top and a third door was cut down for the base. I used lockable castors and the internal area for storage that were added as I could. I used second hand hardwood for an apron across the front face(housed) that stiffened up the box to prevent racking. strengthened the top, is good to mount a vice to and can be drilled for dog holes and two offcuts of plywood for an internal shelf under the benchtop and a back which braced everything along with the apron. As I had time I have added five drawers for storage and a variety of storage options on both sides under the overhanging top. The top surface is a box of 10mm beech parquet (it literally fell off the back of a truck and they didn’t bother to retrieve it because the box split open, killed me carrying it home in my backpack on a bike) that was laid with flooring glue and skirted on the three non apron sides with second hand hardwood. I have pounded the heck out of this benchtop and it has been extremely resilient and the 10mm parquet gives the holdfast something to grip as mdf sucks at this. The crux of this is that it is quick and cheap and can be adapted easily to a variety of designs- solid strip flooring on top would be a great option. May be an interim solution and incorporate a wide variety of techniques that could open up the students to a lot of scope. Later with a bit more time, money etc solid timber benches could be constructed using these and then they get repurposed. Paul Sellers shows how to build a great bench from construction grade timber and there are countless others (including a certain English woodworker I believe) . Anyhow thats my two cents that worked for me at a certain point. If you want a pic or two happy to oblige.

      • Joe

        Wow, would love to see pics!

        Just came across this bench:

        It’s more expensive than we budgeted, but we could get away with 5 sets of tools (4 kids to a workstation) instead of 10 sets (2 to a workstation). I know to an adult this sounds like a drag (sharing tools? No thanks), but 12-15 year olds LOVE working together in groups. I know it will be less efficient, but really for this age group I’m mostly focused on getting them excited about making things from their own hands, and developing patience and craftsmanship. I think those are skills that carry over into whatever they choose to do with their lives.

        For the kids that really get excited about woodworking, I can work more intensely with them after school.

        • Brian Eve

          Here is where I would say that you really need some good, stable work surfaces. I have yet to see a manufactured bench that one would really get their money’s worth out of. Is there a local group of handtool woodworking enthusiasts who might be willing to help knock up a few benches? (These guys could also be a source of expertise for the kids.) It doesn’t have to be complicated, just stable. They can be smallish. It also doesn’t have to be fancy with the most expensive vices. If your kids learned to plane boards with just planing stops and crotchets, they would learn something valuable.

        • JMe


          There is a bench in this book “Woodworking for beginners : a manual for amateurs” by Charles Gardner on page 57 regarding an easy to build high woodwork bench and how to work without a vice. It was printed in 1904 and the introduction is well worth a read as to how little things have changed from now. His projects are a bit over dependant on nails but I thought it a wonderful book.

          It’s out of print and free on

          • JMe

            The bench is 30″ high which seems to have gone missing in the above.

        • Gavin

          Hi Joe, I am a bit of a dimwit when it comes to this sort of stuff so not sure the best way to get a pic or two to you if you want to have a look at the bench I mentioned. Suggestions?

    • Jasper

      I second Gavin’s concept. It’s not atrocious. Keep it simple and stable. For general construction, I use two trestles, three 2×4’s and a full sheet of plywood. Very cheap and works fine. It’s collapsable, which means it cannot be used for planing. But it’s not too difficult to make a fixed (box) construction that is suitable. Elaborate on it for fixing vises etc.
      Some clever ideas can be found in Ron Paulk’s workbenches (although they’re more suitable for carpenters than fine woodworkers).
      I would say NO to buying cheap, lightweight commercial workbenches. They rock, but not in a positive way.
      However, even heavy workbenches tend to fall apart in schools, if nobody is responsible for maintenance.

  15. Will Lisak

    I second the ECE reccomendation. If I were outfitting a program for students I would use their entire lower end range. Great quality, and using the frame saw with different blades saves on the saw budget.

  16. enl

    Good starting project that will get sawing, smoothing, measuring and squaring: Have each kid bring something they want to display and make a display board for it.

    This can be followed up by french-fitting a board to hold, store, or display something using chisels and a router plane, or poor man’s equivalent. Add another thin board to this and it is a storage case.

    As a side note, hard point saws can be sharpened, and, to a point (pun intended), converted from cross cut to rip. Gotta use diamond coated `files’, but they are readily available and not expensive. The narrow diamond profile works well. Even the new hard point often need a touch to remove rough edges on the teeth to ease and smooth the cut. For a major job, diamond coated disk on die grinder. I have actually tried this, once, on a chain saw sharpener. Not worth the hassle unless I had a bunch to do and modified the tool.

  17. Jason A. Hammond

    A good first project as a class may be to build a few benches. Paul Sellers has bench build videos on U Tube that uses building grade lumber, very simple joinery and a simple face vise. The bench has a tool well in the center and could probably be fitted with a face vise on both sides, front and back of bench for two students. This could work temporarily until you had enough benches made for each student or could afford better benches.

  18. David Nighswander

    I would rather that the class be taught with a single good plane set up for proper use than a plane that is almost good enough to use. With that being said buying enough Veritas planes for a modern classroom of 30 students will be an investment. Hopefully the class will carry on for more than a single year and the Veritas or similar quality tools will still perform well at the end as well as the beginning.
    The idea of having a #3 size for each student is a good one. I would rather teach the class with #3 smoothers for each, and a dozen available #5’s. The rough work goes quickly and those tools can be shared.
    My father was a good enough is good enough woodworking tool owner and the poor quality turned me off on hand tools for a long time.

  19. Ian M. Stewart

    Hi Joe, and good luck with your teaching project.
    There’s been lots of discussion about the back saws, but not much mention of ‘panel’ saws. Richard suggested that a starting point might include the hard-point variety and I thought I’d chip in with the suggestion of the Axminster TrueLine range. I’ve used a short “toolbox” version with fine teeth that I found an excellent tool where my back saws would be restricted by the spine. I’m sure that the larger versions would be the same, and much better quality than the ‘jack’ saws and usual joiner’s throw-away saws. My only worry is whether the Axminster range is available in the US?
    As for the benches, I see you have sourced a reduced number of commercial products to make a start. How about a ‘group’ project as the final build of each year’s class to complete a new bench, and that way add an extra bench each year?

  20. Jeff

    Work benches.

    I recall the “4 plex” work benches we had in the various shop classes I was in through out school.
    I’m thinking they were a 6′ square top of either a maple butcher block or the same covered with a sheet of 1/4″ steel plate, depending on the type of shop work to be done (wood working, metal, small engine….)
    There was a good size mechanics vise at each corner or a face vise depending on application.
    This sat on a cube of small project lockers that was probably 3′ square and gave a table hight of, I think 32-34″ .
    A VERY good and stable work surface, with a frame that was bolted to the concrete floor for stability.
    Made by the same company that make school lockers and I would think there might be an issue with safety and insurance in a school environment.
    Wouldn’t the school system provide something like this outside of your start up budget?
    Nothing more discouraging to a beginning tool user than a wobbly bench.
    As adults we can usually start with a “make do” set up and work our way up to something better but, I think kids in a school environment like this need things to move along just a little faster. Especially if the class is only for one semester.
    My Two bits…



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