Does Maple Stain Well? Stain and Seal Maple In 4 Easy Steps

What is Maple Wood and does maple stain well? Stay put as I walk you through this amazing wood type!

Maple is incredibly sturdy and looks lovely! 

Moreover, furniture aficionados and woodworkers gravitate towards the wood for its smooth grain pattern, light, creamy hue, and excellent durability.

But users question Maple’s ability to absorb stain finishes. Leading to our discussion of the day on does maple stain well?

Yes, Maple stain well. However, it is challenging to stain without blotches due to its dense and tight structure of the grain. 

Stains rarely soak into the maple and in most cases, it absorbs stains unevenly. 

It is therefore a difficult task to achieve uniform stain on maple even for experienced woodworkers.

In addition, it is advisable to seal the wood with a pre-stain wood conditioner to guarantee a smooth, uniform finish.

So, read through the article below to learn more about Maple and how to stain it properly.

We’ll also discuss how to darken Maple stain and frequently asked questions about the wood.

What Is Maple Wood?

Maple, as the name indicates, is from Maple trees.

These trees are widely available and can grow very large. Thus, they are preferred for most carpentry and DIY projects.

Maple is a hardwood, meaning it originates from a deciduous tree.

Its sapwood ranges from nearly white to cream and has a golden undertone, while the heartwood features a reddish brown color.

Woodworkers harvest Maple for its sapwood. It is easier to work with than the heartwood version.

However, the wood is still more challenging to handle with hand tools due to its high density.

But it generally machines well and delivers an excellent finish.

Maple wood possesses a fine, even texture with a straight grain.

Further, sometimes you will observe a figured pattern due to injury, strain, or disease as the tree grows.

This aspect is not a drawback to the lumber’s applications.

Specialty custom furniture artisans prefer tiger, flame, wavy, curly, ripple, birdseye, or fiddleback grain designs.

For instance, Ambrosia Maple wood gets its identity from the ambrosian beetle.

The insect bores a network of short galleries and tunnels called cradles. Then, fungi create gray, brown, and blue streaks and a decorative patch.

Another figured Maple lumber type is Spalted Maple. It has dark veins from a rot or bacteria pattern.

Spalted Maple is very decorative, resembling pen and ink drawing through the lumber.

However, unless you specify, manufacturers use hard Marple with straight grain for most furniture.

We have two primary categories of Maple trees.

  • Sugar Maple

In tree form, Sugar Maple is the same plant where we get Maple Syrup. But in wood form, it is often called Rock or Hard Maple.

The lumber is among the densest American domestic hardwoods. And it has a Janka hardness rating of 1,450 pound-force.

For context, white oak scores 1,360 lbf, whereas Cherry rates 950 lbf.

  • Soft Maple

Soft Maple does not allude to a particular tree species. Instead, it refers to a broad lumber category besides hard Maple.

Moreover, most soft Maple wood types are half as dense as hard Maple.

Soft Maple’s availability depends on your locale. In addition, we have two species types in the western and eastern states.

  • Silver Maple

This wood grows in the Easter U.S. and has a lovely silvery undertone. Further, it is slightly softer than hard Maple with a 750 lbf Janka rating.

  • Big Leaf Maple

Big Leaf Maple derives its name from its gigantic leaves, usually six to twelve inches wide.

The tree grows in the Pacific Northwest coastal regions. Also, it is the only commercially harvested maple species in the area.

This wood is slightly denser than Silver Maple and has an 850 lbf Janka rating.

Maple is a famous commercially available wood in the United States. Besides, you will find it in nearly all lumberyards.

It is moderately priced and lies in the middle when comparing domestic hardwoods.

However, you may have a challenging time staining Maple surface.

The lumber has a high density and tight wood grain, receiving stains unevenly.

Thus, you end up with a blotchy surface.

Nonetheless, Maple is perfect for multiple applications, including flooring, basketball bats, woodworking, and musical instruments.

  • Flooring. Maple comes in handy when making any floor that takes a beating, from bowling alleys to basketball courts to homes.
  • Basketball Bats. Maple is the preferred wood choice for bats used by Major League Basketball.
  • Woodworking. Maple has myriad uses in the woodshop, from furniture to jigs, to workbenches.
  • Musical Instruments. Maplewood is a favorite among luthiers, makers of stringed instruments. It delivers incredible resonance and visual beauty.

Therefore, you will find the wood in cellos, violins, violas, and double bases.

Maple is prone to shrinkage with fluctuating humidity. But this aspect does not compromise its use.

Hard Maple is more pricey than Soft Maple. You’ll pay anywhere between $8-$12 per board foot, depending on its grade and width.

The price increases significantly for highly figured variations such as quilted or birdseye Maple.

Expect to pay $20-$30 per board foot.

For comparison, other furniture-grade domestic hardwoods cost about $5-$15 per board foot.

How to Prepare Maple for Staining

Preparing Maple for staining is essential. Unprepared Maple flaws quickly and cannot keep a uniform stain finish.

The main steps of lumber preparation include:

  • Inspect the Lumber for Defects

Holes, crevices, splits, and other openings compromise a smooth finish. Therefore, carefully evaluate the surface and note areas requiring a filler.

  • Countersink Nails Below the Wood’s Surface

Assess the surface for nails sticking out, then take a hammer and nail set to drive the nails under the surface.

  • Apply Wood Filler to the Openings

Filling the surface after tapping the nails and identifying holes and openings is mandatory.

Fortunately, you can get a quality wood filler from any hardware. Scoop some into a putty knife and press it into the hole.

Next, use a knife edge to scrape away excess filler.

Grain fillers are available in multiple colors. Try to complement or match the product color with the Maple as closely as possible.

You can also mix the grain filler with some sawdust to match the color better.

  • Let the Filler Dry and Sand With 200-Grit Sandpaper

Wait several hours or overnight for the paste to cure. Then, sand the excess product with 220-grit sandpaper until it’s smooth and sits flush on the surface.

Sandpaper comes in grit levels, 40 to 600, referring to the pebble size on the paper—the lower the paper grit, the larger the pebbles.

Higher grits are perfect for fine sanding applications, whereas lower grits come in handy for heavy-duty jobs.

  • Sand for a Smooth Finish (Sand With 100-Grit Paper)

Always sand with the wood grain, following the lumber lines. Otherwise, you may end up leaving ugly scratches.

Sand in a straight line until you cover the entire surface.

Use grittier sandpaper as you start, as non-sanded wood has rough edges and splinters.

Also, please avoid using belt sanders. They are better for larger staining applications, like wood floors.

In addition, the device could damage small workpieces like furniture. So, sand by hand instead.

  • Wipe the Wood In Between Sanding

Use a tack cloth or vacuum for a better result. You can also get a paper towel lightly damped with mineral spirits.

Sanding leaves behind loads of sawdust. Further, this residue leads to a rough surface after staining.

Thus, clean the surface thoroughly after every rub.

  • Sand Two More Times With 150- and 200-Grit Paper

This step helps to remove marks left by the previous sanding session. Hence, double-check and ensure you remove these marks before further sanding.

Also, working with a finer grit paper helps remove all the wood’s fine imperfections before stain application.

  • Wet the Lumber and Sand It Again

Wet the surface to raise little fibers on the surface. Then, use a damp rag and wipe the wood.

Next, sand the wood using 220-grit paper to remove the remaining fibers. Otherwise, they will raise during staining and deliver an uneven finish.

Wipe the lumber and ensure the surface is clean.

You can use a cloth moistened with mineral spirits to eliminate straggling debris. But allow the solvents to dry before proceeding.

  • Conditioning the Wood (Apply the Conditioner to Open the Wood Pores)

Ensure the lumber pores are open before staining. This way, you facilitate an even surface.

Use a paintbrush and apply an even coat to the entire surface. Also, consider a thin layer to keep puddles away.

Lastly, wood conditioner, unlike paint, is watery. Thus, allow the brush to drip over the can before brushing.

  • Wet the Surface When You Don’t Have a Conditioner

Some professionals prefer water to wood conditioner to prepare the lumber for staining.

The exercise is called Grain Popping.

However, only use a wet rag to apply the water and do not add the stain coat until the surface dries completely.

The process may take hours, so be patient.

In addition, using distilled or sterile water is best. Tap water has minerals that may alter the wood’s color.

Let the conditioner sit for 15 minutes before staining.

But please don’t wait longer than two hours. The lumber pores will not be open, compromising stain adhesion.

NB: Sanding is an essential step when preparing Maple wood. Otherwise, the stain will highlight marks, dings, and scratches.

Also, frequently check for swirls in orbital sanders when sanding the wood.

They are hard to see in the beginning but become more accentuated after stain application, and it’s frustrating.

Lastly, consider 220-grit sandpaper for the best outcome.

How to Stain Marple

Unfortunately, staining Maple is simple but slippery. The wood has a tight grain; thus, pigment stains do not absorb uniformly.

But still, it is possible to achieve an even stain color with Maple. You only need to grasp a few techniques.

In addition, practice on scrap wood pieces to see how the dye stain looks.

Then, check the procedure below if your Maple wood is unfinished.

Get the Needed Supplies

  • Wood Sealer
  • Paintbrush
  • 220-grit sandpaper
  • Stain
  • Clear finish
  • Rags

Seal the Maple Wood

First, sand the surface with 220-grit sandpaper until it feels smooth. Then, use a tack cloth to remove the sawdust.

Next, apply the wood sealer uniformly with the paintbrush, ensuring you cover all the nooks and crannies.

Sealing Maple wood helps cover and fill up its porous structure, delivering excellent waterproofing and elements resistance.

It also keeps the lumber fresh for an extended duration.

Moreover, oil-based sealers deliver rich color and grain to the wood.

But you can still use a water-based formula when intending to maintain the wood’s natural look.

Sealing Maple also helps limit penetration and thus comes in handy in woodcarving.

Apply the Stain

Apply multiple stain coats until you deliver the desired color. However, three layers are the best for a professional finish.

Sometimes you may observe blotches after several days when the sealer and stain are incompatible.

Thus, please use stain and sealer from the same manufacturer.

Gel and oil-based stains are the best for Maple wood. They enrich the lumber’s color and grain.

Also, they are easy to apply using a paintbrush.

Here’s a Video on How to Stain Maple;

Dry and Seal

Leave the surface to dry overnight after stain application. Further, reapply the formula if you observe any blotches.

Next, seal the surface with a polyacrylic finish for better waterproofing.

Once you finish drying and sealing, clean the surface with mineral spirits.

How to Darken Maple Stain

We have several techniques to adopt when darkening Maple stain. They include:

  • Tone Topcoats With Dye

Toning lacquer topcoats with a dye is an excellent way to darken them. In addition, mixing the formula with lacquer gets the stain as dark as you want.

However, there is a caveat. This method compromises grain clarity. 

Therefore, it is advisable to use small dye amounts. But ultimately, you’ll achieve a dark hue for your furniture and woodworks.

  • Use Dark Walnut Gel Stain

This method is among the easiest to use for darkening Maple stains.

Start by sanding the surface with 36, 80, 100, and 220-grit paper to deliver an ultra-smooth finish.

Next, get the Walnut Gel Stain and apply it uniformly to the wood.

The specialty of this formula is that it doesn’t soak deep into the lumber. Thus, you will have minimal blotchy patches.

NB: The Trans Tint Technique is more prevalent among woodworking professionals, while the Walnut Dark Gel Stain is perfect for beginners.

Can You Stain Maple to Look Like Walnut?

You can color Maple stain, depending on your preference. Therefore, it is possible to stain the surface to resemble Walnut.

Here is a detailed step-by-step guide:

How to Stain Maple to Look Like Walnut

Get 120-grit sandpaper to smooth the surface. Focus on the rough areas and smoothen them to avoid a blotchy outcome.

Use 220-grit paper to enhance the smooth finish for an expert finish.

Wipe the sanding dust and remove a wet rag to eliminate the remaining debris. This way, you make the surface ready for staining.

Apply a pre-stain wood conditioner to enhance stain absorption and guarantee a uniform color.

Next, give it a ten to 15-minute drying duration before staining.

Stain the surface with a rag or a bristle brush. Also, ensure you rub the entire wood evenly.

Wait for the recommended duration and let the finish dry naturally. Then, use a damp cloth to dry the surface further.

Give the stain at least four hours to stain deep into the lumber pores. This way, you won’t have dark patches.

Apply another stain coat to make the surface darker. Moreover, you can add as many coats until you deliver the desired outcome.

Lastly, apply a protective coat to solidify the process. It also keeps the stain from running.

Do You Need to Condition Maple Before Staining?

It is advisable to condition Maple before staining. The conditioner prevents imperfections and prepares the surface for a perfect finish.

Conditioning the wood fills in the soft, porous pores. Thus, you minimize uneven absorption and guarantee a uniform surface.

However, you do not need the formula when using gell or water-based stains.

Best Stain for Maple Wood

Various Maple wood stains give different looks. Therefore, the outcome depends on your desired appearance.  

However, test it out on a small wood section regardless of your chosen stain. As a result, you’ll avoid mistakes and deliver a flawless finish.

Here is a detailed account of the products to help you make an informed decision.

  • Minwax 260304444 Interior Wood Gel Stain

Minwax gel stain for mahogany deckMinwax 260304444 gives wood and non-wood surfaces like veneers, metal, and fiberglass a rich, consistent hue.

It is easy to apply to vertical workpieces.

The gel stain only needs one coat to deliver a satisfactory result. But you can add a second layer for a darker color.

Use a top-quality natural bristle paintbrush or a cloth to apply the formula.

Also, you can utilize a foam brush for the project. Then, quickly work the gel stain with a lint-free cloth.

A considerable advantage of this product is that you can utilize leftovers for other applications. Therefore, nothing goes to waste.

  • Minwax Wood Finish Penetrating Stain

Minwax wood finish for walnutMinwax Penetrating Stain soaks into the lumber. Further, it delivers a uniform color while enhancing the wood grain.

The formula is suitable for interior staining applications, such as cabinets, wood furniture, and doors.

In addition, it makes staining Maple surfaces more manageable than ever.

This stain penetrates the wood’s pores in five minutes, repels lapping, and dries in about two hours.

Thus, you can stain the surface faster.

Applying the formula in the wood grain direction is easy with a high-quality paintbrush or lint-free rag.

Then, wait for ten to 15 minutes before wiping off excess formula.

Also, the stain’s color becomes darker as you wait longer. And you can apply more coats for a deeper color.

Lastly, this traditional dark color looks perfect on multiple projects. But let it dry properly before adding your favorite topcoat.

  • General Finishes Water-Based Wood Stain

Image of General finish for walnutThe General Finishes Brand is famous for producing the best wood stains and finishes on the market.

Further, this water-based wood stain is one of their incredible formulas for bringing life to your Maple workpiece.

The stain blends easily and soaks deeply into the lumber, reducing imperfections.

In addition, its high-quality pigments deliver dark colors even on hard Maple.

Apply the formula with a clean stain cloth, paintbrush, or sprayer. Also, it is odorless and has fewer VOCs, making the process convenient.

Moreover, you can use General Finishes Water-Based Stain without protective gear.

It won’t release poisonous fumes into the atmosphere.

The product is also non-combustible and thus completely safe.

You are sure of quick application as this stain cures fast into a thick finish. Further, it has broad coverage.

In addition, the finish is easy to clean with solvents and mineral spirits.

However, always play safe with water-based products and general finishes gel stains.

Test the formula first to see if you like its color.

  • Varathane Aged Wood Accelerator

Varathane is a Rust-Oleum subsidiary brand, perfect for indoor and outdoor applications. Further, it delivers a vintage feel for your Maple furnishings.

This stain is easier to handle as they have a low odor. In addition, you can easily clean up with water and a cloth.

Water-based stains are also perfect for Maple plywood. They have an incredible viscosity difference, allowing deep penetration.

The formula accentuates and preserves the lumber’s natural wood grain. Also, it dries within an hour and is perfect for all time-sensitive projects.

  • Rust-Oleum Ultimate Wood Stain

Rust-Oleum Ultimate Stain is perfect for enhancing Maple’s wood grain. Further, you can use it on soft Maple furniture and Maple cabinets.

Wood stain In Does Maple Stain Well?The finish dries quickly, allowing you to use the stained surface immediately.

In addition, it enhances the wood grain, adding spice to your doors, floors, cabinets, and furniture.

One stain coat is enough to deliver superior durability and fantastic color. Besides, it dries in an hour and gives a 275 square foot per quart coverage.

This product is available in 19 multiple colors and is in half-pint and quart sizes.

It does not need a wood conditioner.

The longer you let the lumber absorb the stain, the darker the finish. Besides, it raises and highlights the wood grain to deliver a lovely finish.

Apply this formula at 60 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, stir it thoroughly before use and wipe the excess in the wood grain direction.


Stained Maple looks incredible, but as mentioned earlier, achieving an expert finish is quite challenging.

The wood has a tightly stacked grain, compromising stain adhesion.

Fortunately, water seeps through lumber pores and gets into other nooks that other formulas can’t.

Therefore, a water-based stain is a perfect choice for Maple wood.

However, these stains are not as potent as oil-based ones. Hence, you need more to achieve a durable finish.

But although you need much elbow grease and patience for the process, the results are undoubtedly worth it!

How to Choose the Best Stain Color for Maple

Wood creates sturdy, classic, long-lasting, and decor complementing pieces. Moreover, you can creatively manipulate it to satisfy all your aesthetic needs.

Stain is an easy, affordable way to customize wood furniture. It can effectively enhance a workpiece from dull to fantastic.

However, we have various Stain brands, and it is best to choose the correct formula for Maple wood.

Below are a few guidelines to ease the decision-making process.

  • Wood Grain and Species

Knowing the lumber’s grain and species significantly influences how the chosen stain appears.

Thus, first, determine what material you’re staining.

Woods with a tight grain like Maple and birch are harder to stain as the grain does not absorb the pigment.

In addition, various wood species deliver different finishes.

For instance, a finished Oak surface differs from a Maple one because of varying pore sizes.

The smaller the wood pores, the harder it is for the surface to absorb the formula.

  • Light or Dark?

The stain color plays a significant role in the product selection project. But it’s not just for aesthetic reasons.

Remember, wood has imperfections and will wear and tear with continued use.

Further, darker stains will help hide knots and other lumber variations. But you’ll spot nicks, dust, and scratches over time.

Conversely, lighter stains hide the usage signs willingly but allow natural wood blemishes to show.

Therefore, make an informed decision since you’ll have to compromise one benefit for another.

  • Room Decor

Consider the room decor when getting a stain for your Maple furniture.

For instance, choose a light-colored stain if your living room has more of a country home feel.

On the other hand, a darker stain will complement a bedroom with a deep-color scheme.

It is frustrating to fall in love with staining Maple furniture, only to realize it does not fit into its designated room.

  • Should It Even Be Stained?

Some woods like Maple and Birch are better off untouched. Besides, they are naturally beautiful.

However, adding a top-quality clear coat is best to protect the piece from elements is best.

This way, you keep the surface looking new for longer.

In addition, you can adjust any grain or species to obtain an excellent finish, only that you’ll put in more work to get an okay staining result.

Oak and Brown Maple are perhaps the best staining bets if you want a remarkable wood species to stain.

On the other hand, go for Birch and hard Maple when looking for a natural lumber type.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the most common questions around the subject:

  • What Color Is Maple Wood?

Woodworkers prefer to use Maple’s sapwood in fine wood furniture instead of heartwood.

The lumber is white with pitch fleck and mineral streaks. Therefore, you will also see some reddish-brown tint that darkens with age.

Stains highlight these mineral streaks. Thus, stained Maple surfaces appear richer and darker.

On the other hand, the heartwood is brownish-red. But sometimes, it appears pretty dark despite becoming more mellow with age.

  • Is Maple a Hardwood or a Softwood?

Interestingly, wood hardness is among the most misunderstood concepts. And Maple adds to the confusion.

Hardwood technically refers to lumber from a dicot tree like a broadleaf variety.

Conversely, softwood originates from a gymnosperm tree, such as a conifer.

Therefore, the concept does not reference the lumber’s ability to resist force, dents, or scratches.

Softwood includes plants like Pine, Fir, and Cedar, whereas hardwoods are Oak, Cherry, and Maple.

  • Is There a Difference Between Soft Maple and Hard Maple?

There is a difference between soft and hard Maple. The appellation’ soft Maple’ is an umbrella term describing different Maple tree species.

Oppositely, ‘hard Maple’ is wood from Acer Saccharum species and is synonymous with Sugar Maple.

Moreover, besides Acer Saccharum, the only other category in the Maple family called hard Maple is the Acer Nigrum or Black Maple.

Hard and soft Maple comes from dicot trees and thus falls in the hardwood group.

In addition, they are the most durable Maple species featuring a 1,450 Janka score.

Thus, this wood is among the hardest domestic materials used in furniture making.

We have various soft maple wood types, but the most common include silver Maple, Red Maple, Box Elder, bigleaf Maple, and stripped Maple.

Despite the wood being called soft Maple, it is only 25 percent softer than hard Maple and harder than Douglas Fir, California Redwood, and Southern Yellow Pine.

  • How Dense/Hard is Maple Wood?

Wood’s durability is best evaluated using the Janka test. 

It involves pressing a steel ball into a block and measuring the force needed for the ball to become halfway embedded.

The result is expressed in pounds of force or a number followed by the term ‘Janka.

Hard Maple, usually from a sugar Maple tree, scores 1,450 Janka. It tops most hardwoods famous in the market.

For instance, white oak is the next in line scoring 1,360 Janka. Then, we have the Red Oak at 1,290, Walnut at 1,010, and Cherry at 995.

So, although red Maple is technically a soft Maple wood, it is not far behind and comes in at 950 Janka.

Box Elder, Silver, bigleaf, and stripped Maple range from 700 to just over 800 Janka.

Again, the above numbers mean you need more than 700 pounds of force to embed a steel ball in the wood.

So, the wood is pretty durable.

  • Does Maple Wood Stain Get Blotchy?

Most times, when someone mentions staining Maple wood, the first thing that would pop up is blotchy spots.

Besides, Maple can still give a blotchy result, regardless of how experienced you are in woodworking.

Therefore, it is advisable to be careful during the process.

In addition, adhere to the recommended wood preparation procedures, like sanding and conditioning the surface.

Otherwise, poorly sanded or unsanded Maple is tough. And it may not allow the stain to penetrate deeply.

As a result, you get a blotchy surface.

Fortunately, you can remedy the situation by sanding the surface until you deliver a smooth surface.

This way, you are sure the wood will absorb the stain properly.

Also, consider stripping and sanding simultaneously. You can apply a shellac wash coat before staining.

Alternatively, you can use a glaze to soften the contrast between deeply and lighter-colored areas.

The exercise helps have the same color throughout the surface.

  • How Do You Reduce Blotching from Dark Stains?

Consider applying a wood conditioner to enhance stain penetration. Also, sand the frames and panels with 220-grit and the end grain with 300+ grit paper.

As a result, you facilitate uniform stain absorption and minimize blotching.

Alternatively, you can treat the end grain with a Gluesize coat.

Mix yellow or white glue with water, following the ratio of 1:10. Then, apply the formula to the surface.

Let the finish cure for a few hours and sand with 400-grit sandpaper.

This way, you seal the end grain, which absorbs stain at a higher rate if left open. In addition, it will darken over time.

  • What Makes Maple Wood So Difficult to Stain?

Nothing matches a good stain coat off a beautifully-crafted Maple workpiece.

But you may have noticed that the wood is not particularly cooperative during staining.

Why though?

Most hardwoods are difficult to stain due to their dense and tight wood grain, Maple not excluded.

Maple is a medium hardwood featuring a tightly packed wood grain.

Further, this pattern gives its surface lovely thin lines, allowing you to follow the workpiece forms it creates.

However, the stunning quality makes the lumber less receptive to wood treatments and coatings.

Maple’s tightly pressed wood fibers inhibit stain absorption, leading to a blotchy finish.


Staining lumber is a perfect strategy to enrich its color while giving it superior protection from elements.

Besides, although the process is not necessary for most lumber, primarily hardwoods, it protects the surface from moisture, insect, and sun damage.

But with the increased use of Maple in woodworking projects, most would like to know:

Does Maple Stain Well?

Maple is among the most notorious wood types to stain besides cherry, pine, and birch. It does not absorb pigments well, making staining a challenge.

Nonetheless, you can excellently stain the surface with some effort and patience.

First, sand the wood until you deliver a smooth, even surface. Then, seal it with a pre-stain wood conditioner.

Also, you can eliminate dark areas by adding a lighter stain color.

Image of a woodworker wearing hearing protectors for woodworking

Tyron Otieno

Tyron is an avid woodworker and writer. He founded this website to help other woodworkers, whether hobbyists or professionals by sharing his knowledge and experiencie after a decade of woodworking.

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