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Old 11-19-2020, 09:25 AM
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Default Powder charge for .38 vs 9mm

HI All!
I'm new at reloading. Reloaded a bunch of .380s and 9mm. All seemed to cycle through my firearms nicely. Now I'd like to reload my .38 Specials. I see in the reloading chart that the powder load minimum is 3, and max is 4grs. The 9mm I can load at max 5grs, both with W231 powder. Just curious why the .38 with a longer cartridge can take a lighter load? I'm sure this is a stupid question for most of you, but I'm hoping there is no such thing as a "stupid question".. so before I get started with these .38s I'd like to know the physics is why it's a lighter load than the 9mm. Thank you. A
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Old 11-19-2020, 10:01 AM
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The 9mm operates at higher pressures. SAAMI will explain.

https://saami.wpengine.com/wp-conten...sting-Copy.pdf
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Old 11-19-2020, 10:10 AM
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Welcome! What 'old tanker' said.
In the old days 38spcl were preferred for self defense, but with modern powders and bullets most like the 9mm. Higher pressures and increased velocity with bullets just about the same weights as 38's have to offer make for a nice hole.
I still like a slow 158gr piece of 38 lead.
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Old 11-19-2020, 10:55 AM
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Also depends on bullet weight, which you don't mention as to what you are using or planning on using, and the bullet construction - swaged, cast or jacketed.
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Old 11-19-2020, 10:57 AM
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Keep in mind that bullets of different weights cause different pressure characteristics as well, with the same powder load. And every cartridge has different pressure limits.

Also the 38 Special is so long because it was originally designed for black powder. The 9mm was originally designed for smokeless, so it didn't need to be so big.
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Old 11-19-2020, 11:40 AM
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You are correct about no such thing as a dumb question.

Information is definitely key to safe hand loading.

I recommend getting a manual that describes the cartridge in detail. Not only is it informative, much of it is very interesting.
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Old 11-19-2020, 12:03 PM
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What I find more interesting is that there are a number of powder and bullet combos were the same charge would be appropriate in both 9mm and .38 Special. 9mm operates at approximately twice the pressure and yet the charge weights can be identical in certain circumstances.

The difference between the 2 cartridges being the case capacity. The same amount of powder is going to create the same amount of gas inside the case, but the pressure is spread out over a larger area and therefore the pounds per square inch are much less in .38 Special.
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Old 11-19-2020, 02:19 PM
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Cannot compare two totally different cartridges and two totally different platforms (guns). Each powder, powder charge for each different cartridge component combo has a huge number of variations. If just wanting theory, perhaps one could compare bullet weights and case capacities and gun types but I believe the number powders would make this a life long task (and for a much better mathematician than I am!)
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Old 11-19-2020, 07:04 PM
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Ok, thanks! I did leave out a bit of info. W231 powder, lead semi wadcutter bullets 158 gr. I guess my question was: why so much less powder for the .38. I would have guessed that I would need more because of the extra cartridge length. I do have a RCBS loader with the Nosler book. What are your recommendations for grains for the .38? should I just go by the book or is there a magic number you folks wouldnt mind sharing.
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Old 11-19-2020, 07:18 PM
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Originally Posted by OneHorseRanch View Post
Ok, thanks! I did leave out a bit of info. W231 powder, lead semi wadcutter bullets 158 gr. I guess my question was: why so much less powder for the .38. I would have guessed that I would need more because of the extra cartridge length. I do have a RCBS loader with the Nosler book. What are your recommendations for grains for the .38? should I just go by the book or is there a magic number you folks wouldnt mind sharing.
When smokeless came along and with better and stronger materials and designs some realized that the potential of the .38 case was much more than it was being used for. After blowing up a few .38 guns it was decided that the new cartridge, the .357 Magnum, was in a class by itself and is exactly the same case as the .38 except they make it about a hundredth of an inch or so longer so it can't be loaded into .38 Special guns. So they utilized that big empty space in the .38 Special.
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Old 11-19-2020, 07:47 PM
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Welcome to the loading wilderness. You've gotten good advice above. The 9 mm is designed for MUCH higher pressure in it's smaller case capacity. I use a lot of Win-231/HP-38 (same thing) and also some in 9mm, but I don't have my records with me and wouldn't quote my own loads anyway. Yes, follow the reloading manuals precisely for powder weight and bullet weight/type. It is ALWAYS advised to start your load work up from the bottom of the range of published data and move higher only as you note characteristics of the charge. Also note that every individual gun will have different results depending on chamber, barrel size, etc. That's why you have to do the testing yourself with your gun. The bullet manufacturers as well as the powder manufacturers have dependable data. It is a good idea to have several manuals and cross check between them. That opens up another can of worms as they may sometimes have different starting and maximum loads. When you see that, come back with more questions. Have fun and good shooting!
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Old 11-19-2020, 08:01 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OneHorseRanch View Post
should I just go by the book or is there a magic number you folks wouldnt mind sharing.
This is the single most important piece of reloading advice you will ever get:

Always go by the book.


(Years from now, when you're a highly accomplished hand loader working with some cutting edge wildcat cartridge, there won't be a book. Most of us never get there.)

Meanwhile, Happy Shooting.
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Old 11-19-2020, 09:09 PM
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Also .38 is in the revolver platform where spent gasses can escape. Not so in the .380 and 9mm where the gasses are captured to operate the slide.

And go by the book, starting at the low end and working your way up. There's no way around this - no one can truly offer a short cut!

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Old 11-19-2020, 10:30 PM
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Perfect! Thanks so much for the info. I'll start minimum and fire off a few rounds. Move up from there..slowly... More range time :-)
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Old 11-19-2020, 11:19 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rwsmith View Post
When smokeless came along and with better and stronger materials and designs some realized that the potential of the .38 case was much more than it was being used for. After blowing up a few .38 guns it was decided that the new cartridge, the .357 Magnum, was in a class by itself and is exactly the same case as the .38 except they make it about a hundredth of an inch or so longer so it can't be loaded into .38 Special guns. So they utilized that big empty space in the .38 Special.
Just a minor correction: The 357 is fourteen hundredths of an inch longer than the 38 - not just one hundredth of an inch longer (357=1.29" & 38=1.15").
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Old 11-20-2020, 01:54 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OneHorseRanch View Post
Ok, thanks! I did leave out a bit of info. W231 powder, lead semi wadcutter bullets 158 gr. I guess my question was: why so much less powder for the .38. I would have guessed that I would need more because of the extra cartridge length. I do have a RCBS loader with the Nosler book. What are your recommendations for grains for the .38? should I just go by the book or is there a magic number you folks wouldnt mind sharing.
The 38 case has 2x + the volume as 9mm. So with identical powder charges & bullets, pressures will be quite a bit less in 38sp.
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Old 11-20-2020, 11:44 AM
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One factor I didn't see mentioned above is that smokeless powders are progressive. The more they are confined they faster they try to turn into a gas. The exact same amount of powder behind a 158 grain bullet will produce more pressure than the same amount behind a 125 gr bullet.
6.1 gr of Unique will produce about 950fps with either bullets. With a 125 gr bullet it is a minimal load and with a 158 a maximum.
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Old 11-20-2020, 12:53 PM
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....357 Magnum...longer so it can't be loaded into .38 Special guns...
The .38 S&W Special cartridge was a lengthened version of the .38 Government cartridge then in use. Developed for Smith's new Military & Police revolver early versions of the revolver included the ".38 US Service Cartridge" designation as S&W was disinclined to stamp .38 Long Colt on their product.

The .38 Long Colt, like other cartridges whose roots go back to percussion conversions, initially used heel based bullets. Most of those old Colts had cylinders that were bored straight through. Lacking the "step" in the chamber those Spanish American war era Army issue revolvers will chamber a .357 magnum.

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Old 11-20-2020, 01:46 PM
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Quote:
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The .38 S&W Special cartridge was a lengthened version of the .38 Government cartridge then in use. Developed for Smith's new Military & Police revolver early versions of the revolver included the ".38 US Service Cartridge" designation as S&W was disinclined to stamp .38 Long Colt on their product.

The .38 Long Colt, like other cartridges whose roots go back to percussion conversions, initially used heel based bullets. Most of those old Colts had cylinders that were bored straight through. Lacking the "step" in the chamber those Spanish American war era Army issue revolvers will chamber a .357 magnum.
Yes, unfortunately they will.
Have to be careful with this one not to put the wrong ammo in it.
Though I have read that they will handle the pressures of 38 Special, that isn't something I want to test and I see no point in beating up such an old gun when I can easily create safe loads for it.
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Old 11-20-2020, 02:05 PM
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Go by the book ... in reloading ALL the details matter.

There is no magic number .

After casting and reloading for over 50 years I can tell you it's best not to push over the Maximum loads in your reloading manual ...
unless you are very experienced and have the equipment to safely check what you are doing ... max loads are not to be ignored and must be worked up to slowly ..
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Old 11-22-2020, 09:57 AM
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One more question: So I have the powder W231 gr for the .38. I dont have a powder charge gr for the .357 in W231. Does anyone have the min-max with that powder? I only have the one reference book..guess I should get another. The charge varies from 6.9 SR4756 min- 15.9 H110 max. Thats a huge span! Anyone else with a Nosler book that can give me the powder type that is close to the W231? Hang with me folks.. I'm not sure how to word all my questions. Hope this makes some sense. Thanks. A
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Old 11-22-2020, 11:23 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cdog View Post
...[snip]...
Information is definitely key to safe hand loading.
I recommend getting a manual that describes the cartridge in detail. Not only is it informative, much of it is very interesting.
I totally agree on the need for a manual, or three, or five...
Why so many?...
  • If you are loading Hornady, Nosler, Sierra, Speer, Remington, etc. bullets, then buy a manual for each brand of bullet you are using.
  • Also buy or source a manual for each brand of powder you are loading (Hodgdon, Winchester, Vihtavuori-online, etc. if available hard-copy or online)
  • The Lee Modern Reloading Manual is a good starting point, however, be aware that the manual is information gleaned from a number of different sources and is often not as accurate as going to a specific OEM manual. And always be aware of the test barrel length of the loading information.

Good luck! And happy reloading...
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Old 11-22-2020, 11:48 AM
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Hodgdons website has load data for .357 and 231.
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Old 11-22-2020, 12:58 PM
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Quote:
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Just a minor correction: The 357 is fourteen hundredths of an inch longer than the 38 - not just one hundredth of an inch longer (357=1.29" & 38=1.15").
I meant to say a tenth of an inch but your numbers are exact...so thanks for the correction.
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Old 11-22-2020, 07:29 PM
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Quote:
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The Lee Modern Reloading Manual is a good starting point, however, be aware that the manual is information gleaned from a number of different sources and is often not as accurate as going to a specific OEM manual. And always be aware of the test barrel length of the loading information.
Yes, Lee is a good place to start and has possibly the widest range of data for different powders and bullets. It may tell you if a particular powder is even tested with your bullet. You'll still want to cross-check with other sources.

HP-38 and Win 231 are the same powder, made in the same factory, and dumped into bottles with different labels. These are well established to be interchangeable. However, if memory serves, Lee lists results for .38 using HP-38, but not .357. Then, turn the page and there are .357 loads using Win 231, but not HP-38. When I discovered this anomaly, I was confused. This is the nature of loading data and why you need multiple sources.

Sounds like you need a powder burn rate chart. Most manuals have one or they can be easily found on powder manufacturers' websites. These charts compare the various burn rates of all the major (and sometimes obscure) powders. With care, substitutions might be made with powders immediately adjacent or nearby on the charts, with only slight adjustments. For instance, Win 231/HP-38 will be nearby to Unique, but not an exact match as to powder charge weights in the manuals. 231 is a tad "faster." They are both fine powders for mid-range use in your intended calibers, but have slightly different characteristics.
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Old 11-22-2020, 08:14 PM
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And sometimes the same powder charge actually works in multiple calibers. 3.5 gns of BE is my plinking load for cast bullets in 9x19, 9x18 and 38 Special. Different weight bullets of course but they shoot pretty much to point of aim in fixed sight handguns.

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Old 11-22-2020, 08:29 PM
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You can never have to many references. Iím at a dozen loading manuals and 35 years worth of handloader magazine back issues. Iíve heard that reloading can get addictive.
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Old 11-22-2020, 08:29 PM
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Quote:
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And sometimes the same powder charge actually works in multiple calibers. 3.5 gns if BE is my plinking load for cast bullets in 9x19, 9x18 and 38 Special. Different weight bullets of course but they shoot pretty much to point of aim in fixed sight handguns.
Yes, and 4.4gr Titegroup appears in charts for 9mm, .40 S&W, .38Spl, and .45 ACP, just among the cartridges I routinely load, and several others I don't.

Posts like the OP's concern me, especially requests for general rules of thumb for similar powders. The science of internal ballistics is not only more complicated than most understand, it is more complicated than most CAN understand, unless educated in the world of second and third-order differential calculus.
https://www.rand.org/content/dam/ran...2008/P4466.pdf
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Old 11-22-2020, 11:07 PM
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I use HP38 exclusively for pistol rounds. Meters dead on every time. Same powder as W231. I load 3.6 grains under a 158 grain .38 SWC and 4.2 grains under 124 grain round nose 9MM.
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Old 11-23-2020, 07:03 AM
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Quote:
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The charge varies from 6.9 SR4756 min- 15.9 H110 max. Thats a huge span!
That is a huge span but you can't extrapolate one powder charge from another. Powders have different burn characteristics, pressure curves, etc. Also note that, all other things being equal, larger bullets use a smaller powder charge.

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Does anyone have the min-max with that powder?
Published data is the Gold Standard. Even if someone gave you a range of charges, you can't trust it. Even if they're right, typos happen.
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Old 11-25-2020, 10:57 PM
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WOW! Thats a lot of info! Good stuff tho. Thank you. I'll keep searching reference books before I get started on the .357. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!!
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Old 11-25-2020, 11:37 PM
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“The charge varies from 6.9 SR4756 min- 15.9 H110 max. Thats a huge span”

PLEASE do not attempt to compare the two and interpolate a load recipe based on this. Incredibly dangerous. Those powders can’t be compared.

Get a Hornady, Lee, Speer, and Lyman manual. The Lee manual has lots of basic info that should interest you. Lyman makes a great manual focusing on cast bullets. Also, all the powder manufacturers have online resources available. There is absolutely no reason to guess at anything. The research has already been done.
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Old Yesterday, 12:44 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OneHorseRanch View Post
One more question: So I have the powder W231 gr for the .38. I dont have a powder charge gr for the .357 in W231. Does anyone have the min-max with that powder? I only have the one reference book..guess I should get another. The charge varies from 6.9 SR4756 min- 15.9 H110 max. Thats a huge span! Anyone else with a Nosler book that can give me the powder type that is close to the W231? Hang with me folks.. I'm not sure how to word all my questions. Hope this makes some sense. Thanks. A
You are failing to understand how powders work. The faster the powder the less it takes to reach max pressures. Hence the wide spread in charges across the powder spectrum. Winchester data is on line, cross ref that with your manual. Yes they will likely be slightky diff.
You need another manual for handgun loading. The Noslervis good for rifle but too limited for handgun. I like the Speer & Lyman for handgun. The Lyman I like best because they have a lot of lead data. This is useful for using coated bullets & plated bullets. Yes bullet types matter, they are rarely plug & play.
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Old Yesterday, 12:58 AM
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Onehorse. Please use excessive caution while reloading.
Please look up Burn rates and really understand what that means and why certain powders work well in certain cartridges and bullet weights.
My old Lyman manual has a very good reloading primer ,pun intended, on what, why and how all the components work together as one. Changing one part of the recipe changes everything. P,ease read it and really understand the points if you dont have an old codger to mentor you.
We are all very happy to have you reloading but we see a bit too much excitement and us old codgers know that can easily end up as a blown up gun or worse , pricey deductibles and missing body parts.
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Old Yesterday, 01:30 AM
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Yeah, I'm thinking someone needs to read a couple of basic manuals on reloading to really get a grasp of the fundamentals.

There are a number of things that are counter-intuitive about handloading and you really need to read enough material to understand some of the basics.

For starters I like the Lee manual Modern Reloading. It may not be the best manual out there, BUT it is a great one for a beginner to start with and learn the basics IMO. It also contains a good bit of loading data from a variety of sources all compiled into one place.

After thoroughly digesting the material presented in that one then read one or more of the more advanced manuals for even greater in-depth understanding.
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Old Yesterday, 07:58 AM
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I mostly use the Hodgdon website. Hereís a link:

Hodgdon Reloading | Home

But I also have several manuals. I even use the little pamphlet that comes with my Lee die sets. All of the data between those sources are usually identical, or with very minor variations.

I load middle of the road for the EXACT powder. You canít substitute one powder for another and use the other powder data. This isnít Pepsi vs Coke. I load maybe 50 rounds and weigh every charge, even though with HP38 itís not really necessary. When I first started it was during the last ammo drought in 2013 and powder was hard to come by. I had to start with Red Dot and that did not meter consistently so I had no choice but to weight every charge and I usually needed to use a trickler to get to where I needed to be. But itís safe and for me safe is what matters with reloading. I load on a single stage press. Iím in no rush.

I watched tons of reliable YouTube videos. Some of them on there are scary. I read lots of books. Asked lots of questions on here. Many knowledgeable members here and theyíre very helpful. Didnít load one round until I had a good understanding of the process and 7.5 years later Iím still a novice, but thatís ok.
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