Woodworking Basics – Crafting with Skill and Precision

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By woodmaster

Hey there, fellow creator! If you’re curious about crafting with your hands, you’ve probably asked yourself, “What are the woodworking basics, and why should I get into it?” You’re in the right place to find out.

Woodworking is an art that dates back to the dawn of civilization, shaping the very world we live in. Its benefits stretch far beyond creating tangible items; it’s about harnessing creativity, building confidence, and honing problem-solving skills.

Whether you’re just getting started or looking to expand your skills, understanding the woodworking basics is essential.

Today, we’ll delve into the essentials of woodworking, from the tools and materials to the techniques that will make you a proficient woodworker. So, let’s embark on this journey of transformation from a curious beginner to a skilled artisan.

What is Woodworking?

Woodworking is the craft of creating, building and shaping objects from wood. It’s a timeless skill, blending art and mechanics, that allows you to turn a mere piece of timber into something functional and beautiful.

Benefits of Learning Woodworking

Why learn woodworking? Imagine the joy of creating something with your own hands, the satisfaction of solving intricate puzzles, and the tangible rewards of customizing your space. Woodworking can:

  • Enhance your creativity
  • Improve your focus and patience
  • Provide a sense of accomplishment
  • Offer the potential for a rewarding hobby or career

Overview of Woodworking Skills

Mastering woodworking requires a blend of skills, including:

  • Understanding different wood types and their uses
  • Learning various techniques for cutting, joining, and finishing
  • Being proficient with both hand and power tools
  • Knowing how to read and follow detailed plans and blueprints

Understanding Woodworking Tools

Hand Tools: Their Purpose and Care

In the realm of woodworking, hand tools are your trusty sidekicks. Each one has a unique role, and here’s how you care for them:

Hammers and Mallets

Tool Purpose Care
Claw Hammer Driving nails, fitting parts Keep dry, handle oiled
Mallet Gentle persuasion for joinery Store properly to avoid deformation


Tool Purpose Care
Hand Saw General cutting Clean teeth after use
Back Saw Precision cuts Protect the teeth when stored


Tool Purpose Care
Bevel Edge Chisel Cutting joints Sharpen regularly, store with protection


Tool Purpose Care
Bench Plane Smoothing surfaces Keep blade sharp, prevent rust

Power Tools: Safety and Basic Operations

When it comes to power tools, safety is paramount. Get to know each tool’s basic operations and always prioritize your well-being.


  • Purpose: Creating holes, driving screws
  • Safety: Use clamps to secure work, wear eye protection


  • Purpose: Smoothing surfaces
  • Safety: Dust mask on, never force the tool

Saws (Circular, Jigsaw, and Table Saw)

  • Purpose: Cutting wood in various shapes and sizes
  • Safety: Keep hands away from blades, use push sticks

Measuring and Marking Tools

Precision is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. Measuring tapes, rulers, squares, and marking gauges are your roadmap to accuracy.

Essential Tool Maintenance

Regular maintenance keeps your tools in top shape and your work top-notch. Clean, sharpen, and store your tools properly after each use.

Materials in Woodworking

When you stroll down the aisle of your local lumber yard, you’re not just looking at stacks of wood; you’re looking at a world of potential. But how do you decide what to take home for your next project?

Types of Wood: Hardwood vs. Softwood

First off, let’s clear up a common misconception. Hardwoods aren’t always harder, and softwoods aren’t always softer.

The terms actually refer to the types of trees they come from. Hardwoods are from deciduous trees that lose their leaves annually, like oak or maple.

Softwoods come from conifers, which usually remain evergreen, like pine or spruce.

Understand the difference:

  • Hardwood: Durable, for fine furniture
  • Softwood: Easier to work, for framing and outdoor projects


Type Characteristics Best for
Oak Strong, heavy, with a pronounced grain Heirloom furniture, flooring
Maple Hard and fine-grained Cutting boards, workbenches
Walnut Rich color, easy to work Luxury furnishings, decorative items

Hardwoods are the go-to for pieces where strength and longevity are prized. They’re often used in fine furniture and flooring. For instance, oak is a powerhouse, known for its strength and durability—perfect for a dining table that’ll host family meals for generations.


Type Characteristics Best for
Pine Lightweight, with a softer texture Quick DIY projects, shelving
Cedar Naturally resistant to rot Outdoor furniture, decking
Spruce Strong for its weight Construction framing

Softwoods, on the other hand, are your everyday, versatile pals. They’re easier to cut and shape. Pine, for example, is fantastic for those just starting out or when you need something not too heavy, like a floating shelf.

Wood Selection for Projects

Now, how do you pick the right type of wood for your project? Consider these three factors: strength, workability, and aesthetics.


Do you need your creation to withstand heavy loads or resist wear and tear? Hardwoods, with their dense fibers, are often the best bet for high-strength needs.


Are you hand-carving or using power tools? Softwoods are generally more forgiving and easier to manipulate, which is why they’re often recommended for beginners.


What’s the vibe you’re going for? The warm tones of cherry wood can imbue a sense of elegance, while the light color of birch can help create a modern, minimalist look.

Thinking about the end use is crucial. A mahogany desk? Luxurious and long-lasting. Cedar garden planters? Resistant to the elements and beautifully aromatic. Or perhaps a pine bookcase? Affordable and relatively easy to assemble.

In the real world, consider the classic rocking chair. Often made from hardwood like cherry or maple, it’s durable enough to pass down through generations, yet the fine grain gives it a touch of grace.

Or what about your garden’s privacy fence? Cedar is your ally here, standing strong against rain and shine.

Remember, wood is as varied as its uses, and each type has its own story to tell. Whether you’re crafting a sturdy oak armoire or whittling a whimsical pine figurine, choose with both heart and mind.

And most importantly, have fun with it! Isn’t that what woodworking is all about?

Alternative Materials (MDF, Plywood, etc.)

MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard)

So, you’re standing in the aisle, eyeing up the options, and there it is the engineered wood section. It’s like a buffet of options, each with its own strengths.

But when do you reach for MDF instead of a solid piece of walnut or pine? And what the heck is particleboard actually good for?

MDF is like the chameleon of the woodworking world—it can look like anything you want it to. Dreaming of a sleek, modern coffee table? MDF’s smooth surface is perfect for that high-gloss finish.

But remember, it hates water, so keep it indoors, away from the elements.

Quality Pros Cons Best for
Smooth, no grain Easy to paint, economical Can sag with weight, not moisture-friendly Indoor furniture, decorative projects


Ah, plywood, the jack-of-all-trades. It’s layered like a cake, which means it doesn’t warp easily, making it a solid choice for things that need to be flat and stay flat—like shelves in your pantry.

But those layers… unless you’re going for an industrial vibe, you might want to cover up the edges with some trim.

Quality Pros Cons Best for
Layered for strength Versatile, stable Edges can splinter, visible layers Everything from subfloors to cabinets


Particleboard is the underdog of the group. It’s not going to hold up your heirloom china in a cabinet, but it’s totally fine for that backing on a bookshelf or as a substrate for laminate countertops.

Quality Pros Cons Best for
Made from wood particles Cost-effective, light Weak, prone to moisture damage Temporary fixtures, backing material

OSB (Oriented Strand Board)

OSB is like the tough cousin of particleboard. It’s got a bit more muscle, so when you’re building a shed or laying down a subfloor, it’s your go-to for strength on a budget.

Quality Pros Cons Best for
Compressed wood strands Stronger than particleboard Rough texture, not for fine furniture Structural sheathing, subflooring

Now, let’s get real for a minute. Have you ever seen a slick, wall-mounted TV console and thought, “I could make that”? Well, you can, and you probably won’t need a solid block of mahogany to do it.

A nice piece of plywood with a beautiful veneer can do the trick. You get the look without emptying your wallet.

And for those of you starting out, or maybe working in a damp garage, these engineered options can forgive the occasional splash of water (well, except MDF—keep that one dry) and won’t make you cry if you mess up a cut.

So, when should you opt for these engineered friends? When cost, ease of work, and specific application outweigh the need for the strength and beauty of solid wood.

After all, why use an expensive hardwood for the hidden parts of your fancy new desk when plywood will do just fine?

Remember, it’s not just about making do; it’s about making smart choices. Your project, your budget, and your peace of mind will thank you for it.

Understanding Wood Grain and Texture

When you’re picking out wood for your next masterpiece, the grain isn’t just about looks—it’s about how that piece will play along with your tools and the role it’ll play in your project.

The Anatomy of Grain

  • Straight Grain: Runs parallel to the edge, making it stable and easy to work with. Ever seen a classic oak floorboard? That’s straight grain at its best.
  • Cross Grain: Cuts across the growth rings. It can be a bit rebellious, often leading to the wood movement. Think twice before using it for tabletops.
  • Spiral Grain: Twists around the wood in a spiral. It’s like the wood’s doing a dance—beautiful, but tricky to work with.
  • Interlocked Grain: Alternates direction in a zigzag. It’s got character and is often found in tropical woods, making each piece unique.
  • Wavy Grain: Undulates throughout the wood. It’s a showstopper, often reserved for decorative pieces or musical instruments.
Grain Type Cutting Consideration Joining Consideration Real World Example
Straight Predictable cuts Strong, stable joints Hardwood floors
Cross Prone to splintering Requires careful alignment Short sections in parquet flooring
Spiral Can cause tear-out Joints may shift Unique artisan furniture
Interlocked Blade resistance Extra attention to gluing African sapele doors
Wavy Irregular cuts Aesthetic feature over strength Custom guitar bodies

Texture Matters

Texture refers to the wood’s cell structure, which you can actually feel. It ranges from fine to coarse, and each has its place. Fine textures are smooth to the touch and often used in delicate carvings or detailed joinery.

Coarse textures, on the other hand, scream rustic and robust, perfect for that farmhouse dining table or a mantelpiece with a story.

Consider this: You’re making a bookshelf. You want something strong but also with a fine texture that’ll look sleek once finished—maple would be a solid choice here.

Or maybe you’re carving a rocking horse for your niece. A softer, fine-grained wood like basswood is perfect for those intricate cuts and curves.

Working With the Grain

When cutting, always go with the grain—it’s like petting a cat in the right direction. Going against it? That’s a recipe for tear-out, which is exactly as painful as it sounds.

And when joining, think of grain like the strands of a rope. Align them, and you’ve got strength. Cross them awkwardly, and you might as well be tying knots in that rope.

The Final Touch

Ever heard someone say, “This table feels amazing”? That’s the power of grain and texture. It’s not just about how it looks; it’s about the tactile experience. The last thing you want is a splintery surface when you’re reaching for your morning coffee.

So next time you’re in the lumber aisle, take a moment. Look closely at the grain. Feel the texture. Imagine how it’ll contribute to your project, not just in strength and durability, but in the beauty and the story it adds.

Remember, grain isn’t just a detail—it’s the main character in your woodwork’s story. Choose wisely, and your piece won’t just be made of wood; it’ll be a narrative in itself.

Basic Woodworking Techniques

Measuring and Marking Accurately

Ever heard the old woodworking adage, “Measure twice, cut once”? That’s not just a catchy phrase; it’s the golden rule in our craft. But how do you ensure you’re measuring and marking with surgeon-like precision?

  • Use the right tools: A reliable tape measure, a sturdy ruler, and a sharp pencil or marking knife are non-negotiable.
  • Check your tools: Always ensure your measuring tools are accurate. A bent ruler or a stretched tape measure can sabotage your work.
  • Mark clearly: Use a marking knife for fine lines that saw blades and chisels can follow accurately. Pencils are great, but sometimes those lines can be too thick.

Imagine you’re building a bookcase. You wouldn’t want shelves that don’t fit because of a hasty measurement, would you?

Cutting and Shaping Wood

The magic happens when wood transforms from a rough sketch to a defined shape. Cutting and shaping are where your project starts to come to life.

  • Choose the right saw for the job: A handsaw for rough cuts, a jigsaw for curves, and a miter saw for precise angles.
  • Support your work: Always use clamps or a vise to hold your wood steady. Safety first, remember?
  • Stay patient: Rushing can lead to mistakes. Take your time, follow your lines, and remember, practice makes perfect.

Take a simple pine bench. Your cuts dictate its final look, from the seat to the leg braces. Precision here is key.

Joinery Basics: From Butt Joints to Dovetails

Joinery is like the glue (literally and figuratively) that holds your projects together. Each type of joint serves a purpose, and knowing which to use is a skill in itself.

  • Butt Joint: The simplest form of joinery, but not the strongest. It’s like a handshake; it works, but there’s not much commitment.
  • Dovetail Joint: The hallmark of fine craftsmanship, dovetail joints are strong and beautiful, often used in drawers and boxes.
  • Mortise and Tenon: This is an ancient technique, like a locked embrace between two pieces of wood. It’s strong and used in everything from furniture to building frames.

For example, a dovetail joint on a jewelry box adds both strength and an air of sophistication.

Sanding and Smoothing Techniques

Sanding is more than just a workout for your arms. It’s the step that prepares wood to become a canvas for finishes.

  • Start with a coarser grit: This helps remove any rough spots or mill marks.
  • Progress to finer grits: This will give you that baby-smooth touch.
  • Always sand with the grain: Going against the grain can leave scratches, which are like wrinkles on wood—they show age and neglect.

Imagine sanding a cedar chest. You’d want a finish that’s as smooth as glass, making the chest not just a storage space, but a piece to be admired.

Each of these techniques is a thread in the tapestry of woodworking. They require attention, dedication, and, above all, respect for the material and the process. Whether you’re creating a keepsake box or a kitchen table, these basic skills are your stepping stones to becoming a true woodworker. So take your time, enjoy the journey, and create something that feels good to the touch and pleasing to the eye. Your future self, clad in sawdust and pride, will thank you.

Wood Finishing Basics

Welcome to the grand finale of your woodworking project: the finish! This isn’t just the last step; it’s the moment where you amplify the natural beauty of the wood and protect your piece for years to come. Are you ready to give your project the grand finish it deserves?

Preparing Wood for Finishing

Before you even think about popping open that can of finish, let’s talk about preparation. Have you ever seen a beautifully finished table that gleams in the light? That’s no accident. It’s all in the prep work.

  • Start with a clean slate: Make sure your wood is free of dust, dirt, and grease. A tack cloth can be your best friend here.
  • Sand it down: Begin with a coarser grit and work your way up to fine grit sandpaper for a surface smoother than a jazz tune.
  • Repair any flaws: Fill in those little dings and scratches now, because once you apply the finish, they’re part of history.

Imagine you’re working on a walnut dining table. You want that top to be so smooth that when your guests run their hands over it, all they feel is the warmth of the wood, not a single bump or groove.

Types of Finishes (Stain, Varnish, etc.)

Now, let’s pick your finish. Think of it like choosing the right outfit for an occasion—it has to match the vibe and function of your piece.


Type Pros Cons Best for
Oil-Based Deep penetration, durable Longer drying time Tables, chairs
Water-Based Quick drying, easy cleanup Less penetration Picture frames, bookcases

Stains color the wood, accentuating the grain without hiding its natural beauty. Want to add a bit of drama to that oak bookshelf? A dark stain can turn it from a simple storage piece into the room’s focal point.


Type Pros Cons Best for
Polyurethane Tough, waterproof Can yellow over time Kitchen tables, bathroom cabinets
Spar Varnish UV-resistant, flexible Requires multiple coats Outdoor furniture, boats

Varnishes don’t just add a sheen; they protect your wood from the knocks and spills of everyday life. If you’re finishing a pine bench for your mudroom, a good varnish will help it withstand the daily shuffle of boots and bags.

Other Finishes

  • Shellac: Gives a warm glow, but it’s not as durable as polyurethane. Perfect for that antique rocking chair that’s more of a showpiece.
  • Wax: Provides a natural satin finish, great for that walnut jewelry box where you want a soft, hand-rubbed look.
  • Oil: Like linseed or tung oil, penetrates deep to protect from within, ideal for that cutting board since it’s food-safe when cured.

Applying the finish is an art in itself. Use the right brush or cloth, work in a well-ventilated area, and always follow the manufacturer’s directions. Take your time, apply thin coats, and allow proper drying time.

The last thing you want is a sticky situation because you rushed the final act.

Remember, the finish you choose is the guardian of your project. It’s what stands between your carefully crafted piece and the chaos of the world. So choose wisely, apply thoughtfully, and watch as your woodwork takes on a life of its own, ready to be used, loved, and admired for years to come.

Planning Your First Project

The thrill of starting your first woodworking project is like standing at the entrance of a forest trail, isn’t it? The path is laid out, but it’s up to you to take the steps. So, where do you begin?

Understanding Woodworking Plans

Think of woodworking plans as your trail map. They guide you through the wilderness of materials, cuts, and assembly with the promise of treasure at the end. But how do you make sense of all those lines and numbers?

  • Familiarize yourself with the symbols and notations: Just like a legend on a map, knowing these is crucial for navigating your plan.
  • Look at the views: Plans often provide different perspectives—top, side, front. Examine them all to get a 3D mental image of your project.

For instance, let’s say you’ve got your heart set on a simple birdhouse. The plan will show you the size of each wall, the roof, and where to drill the entrance hole. Simple, right?

Selecting a Beginner-Friendly Project

It’s tempting to jump into making that grand four-poster bed, but let’s start with something a bit more… manageable. How do you pick the right project?

  • Assess your skills: Be honest with yourself about what you can handle.
  • Consider the tools you have: There’s no point in choosing a project that requires a lathe if all you have is a hammer and saw.

A sturdy workbench is a fantastic first project. It’s a forgiving endeavor if your cuts are a bit off, and you end up with something incredibly useful for future projects.

Reading and Interpreting Plans and Diagrams

This is where you turn lines on paper into something tangible. But how do you ensure you’re interpreting everything correctly?

  • Take your time: Rushing through this part can lead to mistakes.
  • Use highlighters: Color-code different parts of the plan to keep track of where you are.

Imagine building a small coffee table. The diagram will show how the legs attach to the top. Highlight each part in a different color so you know exactly what goes where and in what order.

Budgeting for Materials and Tools

Woodworking can be as expensive as you make it, so how do you keep your wallet happy?

  • Make a list: Write down everything you need before you buy anything.
  • Shop smart: Look for deals on materials. Sometimes, offcuts from a local wood mill are perfect for small projects and much cheaper.

If you’re making a bookshelf, tally up the cost of the wood, screws, glue, and any finish or paint you want to use. Set a budget, and stick to it. Remember, the goal is to end up with a bookshelf, not an empty bank account.

Starting your first woodworking project is an adventure. There will be challenges, but with the right plan, a suitable project, clear diagrams, and a solid budget, you’re already on the path to success. Take a deep breath, gather your tools, and let’s make some sawdust!

Workshop Safety and Best Practices

Stepping into your workshop is like stepping onto a construction site. It’s a place where creation happens, but just like any site, it’s dotted with hazards.

And just like any skilled worker, your first line of defense is knowing how to protect yourself. Ready to gear up and get down to the nitty-gritty of safety?

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

You wouldn’t go into a storm without an umbrella, right? The same goes for your workshop.

  • Goggles: Keep those peepers safe from flying sawdust and wood chips.
  • Ear Protection: Machines are loud. Preserve your hearing with earmuffs or plugs.
  • Dust Masks or Respirators: Wood dust isn’t a seasoning; don’t breathe it in.
  • Gloves: Splinters aren’t a badge of honor. Wear gloves when handling rough wood.

Let’s say you’re sanding down a beautiful piece of ash for a picture frame. Goggles on? Check. Dust mask fitted? Check. Now you’re ready to work without worrying about ash becoming a part of your personal ecosystem.

Safe Tool Operation

Every tool in your workshop is like a member of a rock band. They all have their solo moments, but they need to be in tune and handled with respect.

  • Read the manuals: Yes, all of them. Knowledge is power—safely wielded power.
  • Regular checks: Before you power up, check for wear, damage, and proper settings.
  • Stay focused: Distractions and power tools mix about as well as oil and water.

Picture this: You’re using a table saw to cut boards for a new bookshelf. You’ve checked the blade, ensured all safety guards are in place, and you’re focused. That’s how you keep all ten fingers.

Maintaining a Clean and Organized Workspace

Clutter is more than just an eyesore; it’s an accident waiting to happen.

  • Immediate clean-up: Sawdust on the floor? That’s a slip hazard. Sweep it up.
  • Organize tools: A place for everything, and everything in its place.
  • Cord management: Tangled cords aren’t a challenge; they’re a trip wire.

Envision your workspace as a strategic zone. You’ve got a project in progress—maybe it’s a cedar chest. With tools neatly arranged and cords out of the way, you’re not just working smarter; you’re working safer.

Dealing with Common Woodworking Hazards

Awareness is half the battle. The other half is action.

  • Kickback: That’s when the wood or a tool literally kicks back at you. Always use push sticks and hold-downs on saws.
  • Sharp edges: Treat every blade and bit with respect. Store them properly and handle them with care.
  • Chemical fumes: Finishing products can be nasty to breathe. Ventilation is key.

Let’s break it down with an example. You’re applying finish to a walnut dining table. The room is well-ventilated, you’re wearing gloves, and there’s not a spark or flame in sight. That’s how you prevent a finishing touch from becoming a fiery finale.

Remember, your workshop is your sanctuary, but it’s also filled with potential dangers. Suit up with your PPE, know and respect your tools, keep your space shipshape, and always be vigilant about the hazards.

Woodworking is a craft of beauty and precision, but it all starts with safety. With these practices, you’ll be crafting for a long time, and doing so with all your fingers and senses intact. Now, let’s make some sawdust, safely!

Advanced Tips for Beginners

You’ve got the basics down, but now you’re looking for that home run. You want to craft not just competently, but brilliantly. So, how do you leapfrog from beginner to seasoned newbie?

Avoiding Common Mistakes

It’s a jungle out there in the world of woodworking, and even the experienced craftspeople have their “oops” moments. But here’s the secret: those missteps are gold mines for learning.

  • Don’t ignore the grain: Cutting against the grain can tear the wood. Imagine the grain like the scales on a fish—always smooth it down, not up.
  • Measure with care: An extra millimeter can throw off your entire project. Think of a set of nesting tables where one is just slightly off. Not ideal, right?
  • Avoid rushing: Speed is the enemy of precision. Would you rush a masterpiece painting? Treat your projects with the same reverence.

Strategies for Correcting Errors

Even the best of us make blunders, but do we toss the wood and start anew? No, we adapt and overcome.

  • The art of the patch: A well-made wood patch can turn a gaffe into a non-issue. It’s like kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing pottery with gold. You’re highlighting the fix, not hiding it.
  • Plan for flexibility: Design projects with a bit of wiggle room for adjustments. If you’re building a bookcase, could you trim a shelf without ruining the aesthetics?
  • Mistake = opportunity: Sometimes a mistake can lead to a design feature. Was that cut off? Maybe now it’s a decorative edge.

Improving Efficiency and Precision

Work smarter, not harder, right? Efficiency and precision are the yin and yang of woodworking.

  • Jigs and guides: They’re not just accessories; they’re your best friends for consistent cuts and measurements.
  • Regular tool maintenance: Dull tools are inefficient and dangerous. Keep them sharp, and they’ll return the favor with precision.
  • Mindset matters: Approach each project with the mindset of a chess player—think several moves ahead.

If you’re carving out dovetails, a jig is your roadmap to perfect, repeatable patterns. It’s the difference between a snug fit and a wobbly joint.

Resources for Continued Learning

The learning never stops. Every wood shaving carries a lesson.

  • Books: From “The Complete Manual of Woodworking” to “The Essential Woodworker”, books are treasure troves of knowledge.
  • Online resources: Forums, YouTube channels, online courses—they’re all brimming with insights and demonstrations.
  • Community classes: Nothing beats hands-on learning. Local classes can offer personalized advice and camaraderie.

Remember when you first rode a bike? You didn’t just hop on and pedal off into the sunset. You learned, you fell, you got back up. Woodworking is the same. Each project, each challenge, makes you better.

So, gather those mistakes like badges of honor, keep honing your techniques, and soak up all the knowledge you can. Every scrap of wood, and every curled shaving is a step on your journey to craftsmanship. Keep at it, and soon, you’ll be the one sharing advanced tips with beginners.


As the sawdust settles, ask yourself: What have these hands wrought? Isn’t each shaving a chapter in your story? Look at your creation—can you see the journey in every joint and surface?

Isn’t every mistake a masterclass in disguise, each project a stepping stone to mastery? And now, as you gaze upon your work, don’t you feel that urge to begin anew, to craft, to learn, to teach?

So, what will you create next in this grand adventure of woodworking? The possibilities stretch out like planks in a lumber yard, don’t they? Keep the sawdust flying, and remember: it’s not just what you make, but what you make of yourself in the process.

Happy woodworking! 🪓🌲

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