Introduction: Pallet House to Save the World... or a Garden Shed.

My middle school class designed and built a basic prototype for a house made of pallets.  The pallets are for the basic wall structure, and other materials can be used as sheathing, the floor, roof, etc.  With a little imagination the builder can fill in the gaps.

One inspiration was Alexander Saunder's op-ed piece in the New York Times about helping victims of a 2005 earthquake in Pakistan.  His piece "Give Them Shelter" suggested buying garden sheds from Sam's Club en mass and dropping them into isolated regions.  It is an interesting idea.

We also used several sites dedicated to a "Tiny House" movement, which we first saw in a local piece "Stuck in Vermont".  Tiny houses are houses about ten-feet by ten-feet and intended to be lived in (windows, loft beds, water and the like).  There are many other sites dedicated to the movement.  This movement, in turn, was inspired by Thoreau and Walden, which we read excerpts from.  Many of these sources stressed simplicity and self-reliance.  They also dovetailed with groups looking to solve the problems of homelessness and the environment.

There are several Instructables that will support this project, but "Pallet Playhouse" is mentioned several times in the article as it has excellent information on deconstructing pallets and using their cannibalized parts in interesting and creative ways.  I suggest you read it during the design phase and revisit it periodically.

Because we embraced the ideas of civic involvement and recycling we put down two simple rules:

First, everything had to be found.  Because of this, we used pallets.  You will see that we used a refrigerator door for the door.  Even our nails were a rusted mass that we found, and much of it was bound with twine.  We speculated the builders could use anything from scrap wood to crushed soda can shingles for siding or the roof.  The user of this design can use their own ideas and the resources available, as more appropriate nails and ties will make your own results much more sturdy.  The aesthetic, though, was renewable and found so that materials could be found at the site for free.

Second, it was designed to be moved.  We hoped that the basic structure could be manufactured at a central site, sent to its permanent site as a shell and finished with local materials.  Therefore, it had to come apart and reassemble easily.  The main conceit is that the pallets are nailed two each into a panel.  Then, all other connections come apart easily.  In this way, the entire frame can be stacked and moved on the back of a truck or pushed (bound) out of a cargo plane.  On site it can then be assembled.

Mainly, though, we wanted to create a simple shed that anyone could build from materials anyone could find.  Adapt to suit your needs and change your own little piece of the world.

Step 1: Materials

For the frame of the structure we used:

Pallets.  We chose them because they are plentiful; indeed, everyone seems to always want to get rid of them.  Still, check with a store manager to be sure (our local food coop gets a deposit for returning theirs).  They should be uniform in size.  Some pallets are treated with a chemical to prevent bugs hitchhiking to foreign lands via international trade, while others are pressure treated.  The Wikipedia article "Pallet" has extensive information about sizes and also how to identify how they were treated.  You will want at least sixteen for the building we made, plus extras to cannibalize for lumber.  The nature of pallets are such that you may find some are not sturdy or "quite right", so spares are worth having about.  Also, if you wish to use pallets for your floor or roof you will need to calculate in those extras, too.

The Instructable "Pallet Playhouse" has excellent information on deconstructing pallets and using their cannibalized parts in interesting and creative ways.

* Three inch nails or screws

* Twine and duct tape

* More pallets

Considerations for finishing the structure:


* Door.  We used a refridgerator door from the dump (free).

* Hinges.

* Windows.

* Sheathing

Again, "Pallet Playhouse" has some interesting ideas about this.

Tools required are:

Hammer

Handsaw

Pry bar

Drill to pre-drill (pallets are made of a hard, hard wood)

Step 2: Make a Panel

The solid nature of this portable structure is the panel.  Consisting of two pallets bound together with nails or screws, it is small enough to put on the back of a truck, light enough that two twelve year olds can carry it easily, but substantial enough to create a strong piece of the housing puzzle.  Still, pallets are made of solid wood and get heavy fast.

Pallets are not square, but rectangular.  Lay them on the ground so that their exposed side is facing up; this will give you access to pound nails into the spacers.  Turn the pallets so that they face the same way, and that the outer spacers of each run next to each other.

Using three inch nails or screws bind the two pallets together.  Their union should be solid when done, but the entire panel might not be like a rigid board.  Later, when the entire structure is assembled, it will take on a more solid form.  Toppers and the like can also be added for greater stability, but for now a few inches of sag when carried flat is acceptable.  The further you plan to transport this, the more solid you may want it; in your backyard this is less important.

Step 3: Measure and Design

Having made a panel, now measure its dimensions.

With a single pallet, you may have already estimated the size of a panel.  Great.

Now that you know the panel size you can determine how you want the panels to stand in the wall.  We wanted a wall that was wider than tall, so our panels were laid on their side and a second stacked on top.  Just as easily, our wall could have been taller but with a smaller footprint.

With a friend, stand the panel up and then on its side to give yourself a true idea of how long and high your wall can be.

Now you know the dimension of your wall.  Two panels make a wall.  Four walls make a basic house.  Of course, you can add more for a larger building.

Step 4: Create More Panels

Knowing the size of the panel and your wall, you know how many panels you need to make.  Make them all exactly the same size.

Step 5: Make a Wall

In our house, two panels made a wall.

This step should be done on site.  The wall is both heavy and cumbersome, and a few people we be needed to put it in place when the time comes to join them together.

Lay the two panels on the ground next to each other.  Again, lay them so that their exposed side is facing up.  You now need to sister your panels to make a solid wall, so their spacers should be end to end.  In a moment you will tie those spacers together to create long support beams.

Using extra scrap pallets, a pry bar and and hammer carefully take apart a few extra pallets.  You are going to use the spacers from these discards in this step, but the deck boards are also useful to have about.

Slide your freed spacers up the panel and lay them next to the outer and central spacers that are the core of your panels.  A few nails or screws at each end will join the two panels together.

You now have the frame for a wall.

Repeat this four times for four walls.

Step 6: Four Walls

Two panels attached together are quite heavy.  You should get a few friends to help you raise the wa;; into place and hold it while you temporarily join them.

Put the first wall where you want it to be.  Have your friends raise it, lifting the top ridge off of the ground while the bottom ridge stays put (someone can put their foot on it if you fear it will slip).  A single person should then be able to hold it in place while everyone else raises the second wall.

Have those friends put the second wall where you want it to be and raise that.  As we are creating a box, they should be at a right angle.  We used duct tape at the top, middle and bottom to temporarily hold the two walls together.  I also thought of zip ties, and even clothesline would work for the time being.  Secure, we let go.

Follow these steps for the third and fourth wall.  Remember to be outside of the structure before duct taping the last corner, as no one wants to be trapped inside a pallet prison until you can cut a door (there is a temptation to climb it, but it is not really together enough for this).

Your building should be pretty stable at this point.  Note the weak points that you can reinforce in a bit..  Also note if your building is at right angles.  This is the time for you and your crew to pick up corners and slide them around until it is where you want it..

Step 7: Bind the Corners for Good

Duct tape is great, but you may want something more permanent.

As most of the world uses lashings instead of nails, and I knew that we were going to break it down in a week (you might notice from the pictures that we build it in our science lab) we lashed the corners together.  It proved pretty solid.  Still, if this is a permanent structure you will want to create more solid connections.

Your choices are many.  You could go to the hardware store and use metal ties.  As you will eventually be putting on a roof, you can use 2x4s or other long, solid boards as a ridge that will extend from one wall to the other; hammer in long nails that bind the wall together at the top.  You should note that the spacers that end each wall can be bound with nails or screws.  You can also use scrap wood from your extra pallets to sister the corners.  Each and all of these should secure your walls to create a box.

Step 8: Doors and Windows

Cutting doors and windows from here is a snap.  For ease, I suggest that they be cut between spacers, as once you cut a spacer you have to make a header and footer.  We cut a door that served us well.

The size really depends on the materials you have available. 

Someone suggested we use a refrigerator door.  Originally, we thought the insulated nature was perfect, as were the build in shelves.  Unfortunately, because of the narrow door we had to cut to avoid the difficulties listed above we had to remove the door's innards so that it would close flat against the wall.  That said, some of my students starting thinking about making an entire house out of discarded refrigerator doors for their insulation properties and abundant shelving.

Windows are equally flexible.  Use the spacers from the scrap pallets for headers and footers.

The Instructable "Pallet Playhouse" has good details about framing and the like that are beyond our class' project.

Step 9: Floors and Roof

We stopped building with the walls, as the floors and ceilings vary more.

Ceilings could be dirt if materials are scarce.  Just as easily, the floor could be a few more pallet panels joined together.  Once joined, decking can be found and nailed to the pallet frame.  Note that the dimensions might be larger than the box you create.  Cut to size or make a porch with the extra, but any lip will lead to puddles.

If you make a deck it should be off of the ground and on cinder blocks so that it does not rot.  You also may want to cap the ends; more rescued spacers, 2 x 4s or other scrap.  In the Instructable "Pallet Playhouse" the author found pallets that were sheathed with particle board, which he was able to use.  Once you begin to notice pallets you'll notice they are everywhere and your mind will start to fit their pieces into your house.

The roof, too, can be panels.  Measure first as you want an overhang.  As pallets are heavy, you want to make sure you can lift them that high and put them in place.  Then, bind them into a solid roof frame. 

You also want a pitch so that the rain and snow runs off.  A slanted shed roof is easy.  For this, you need to build onto one side of the box so that that end of the roof is higher.  Or, build a gabled roof.  Use your materials (pallets or other).  Simple sheets of tin can lay on a simple frame, so don't think pallets has to be the answer for everything.

Step 10: The Skin

At last you need to sheath your frame.

You can use barn board, clap board or plywood.  You basically have a balloon structure at this point, and need to sheath it accordingly.  Again, in the Instructable "Pallet Playhouse" the author found pallets that were sheathed with particle board, which he was able to use.  Once you begin to notice pallets you'll notice they are everywhere and your mind will start to fit their pieces into your house.

We thought that crushed metal cans (soda or gasoline) might be used as shingles for either the walls or roof.  This Instructable tells of making a tin wall out of soda cans, and while meant for interiors it will give you ideas (or at least make a nice interior wall).  Similarly, plastic battles can be cut and unrolled and used the same way (and their transparency offering sunlight).  We even thought mud or plaster (or snow) could work for the walls if the decks of your pallets are close enough together.  It is solid enough to act as a frame for stone, either dry or motor.  Even a tarp stretched over the frame walls or roof will provide a solid shelter. 

If this is for your backyard garden shed, your choices will be more aesthetic. 

A solid sheathing like plywood will give your structure more support as racking can be a concern.  If you shingle make sure it is solid; reinforce as necessary.

Step 11: Other Thoughts....

Our idea was the frame.  We wanted something that was flexible, mobile and used found materials.

One teacher saw it and thought it would make a nice children's structure, with a door and windows cut to simulate a house while anyone could climb the sides as a ladder.  Great, but again make sure the treatment is appropriate and watch for splinters.

I like the idea of making a house of refrigerator doors.  Growing up on Sesame Street, I think the wall-of-doors that kept Big Bird's nest private from the street.  Connecting several doors into a wall would provide warm shelter for the homeless.

In the end, I took it home (two walls at a time, strapped to the roof of my '97 Impreza), reconfigured it a tad, and made a shed of it.  See the photos below.

From this basic structure we hope people create dream houses that use little new resources and fulfill a dream.

Comments

author
Nettiemac made it!(author)2015-07-18

Thank you for showing how to build something that I was sure could be done. Now to make my shed.

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abdce9c made it!(author)2015-07-09

Got to try this.

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dsantil71 made it!(author)2013-11-17

Here is an 'ible about that
https://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-determine-if-a-wood-pallet-is-safe-for-use/

author
Thermonuklear made it!(author)2012-10-08

Very nice! You could use it to storing and drying firewood if you'd leave the walls unshielded. Sort of a natural drying while keeping the wood safe from rain...

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fzumrk made it!(author)2012-09-12

One of my company's clients built their garage from pallets. He did this as a proof of concept. He is trying to come up with ways to construct buildings at disaster sites using the pallets that relief supplies are shipped in with.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/onesmallproject/sets/72157631017041846/

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Zeppelinfreak made it!(author)2012-07-29

The cross members on the pallets almost look like lathe. A vapor barrier could be stapled over the cross members. Then a fine hardware cloth could be stapled on top of the vapor barrier. To finish, a plaster or stucco like material could be slathered atop the screen. Just and idea.

author
Zeppelinfreak made it!(author)2012-07-29

I believe that most pallets are just scrap oak from milling oak boards. They are not terribly weather-proof and tend to rot. But they make great building materiel.

author
KittyF made it!(author)2010-11-16

Ooooh, I can see having one for a garden shed, and one for a compost heap, and one for the kids toys, and one for a fort, and one for a Creche, and one for a studio, and, and Then when the yard is full, where will anyone play. LOL

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Zeppelinfreak made it!(author)2012-07-29

I built a composter out of 4 pallets for my mother as a mother's day gift. Pallets being of oak construction last magnificently.

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gbailey1 made it!(author)2012-05-21

Thanks for the walk through. Helped me with my own DIY shed.

author
bakermonitor made it!(author)2011-04-06

U could try unrolling a oil drum.

author
letstrythat made it!(author)2011-02-14

I really like your project.,
What a great way to recycle pallets.
It would be very easy to make a wood shingle roof
out of more pallets if you have a band saw.
Great post!

author
Broberg made it!(author)2010-07-12

One idea for siding is to use old newspaper printing plates. They may cost a little bit but the recycling is worth it! With the plates being a bit larger than a flattened can, the build would go much faster. I have always looked at ways to build with pallets and this just gave me a couple ideas. Keep up the good work!

author
CapnKlay made it!(author)2010-11-18

My Father and I build a shop on our farm when I was a child. We used salvaged lumber and sheathed it with salvaged roles of tar paper and later newspaper printing plates. It has lasted for almost a half century.

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LePyro made it!(author)2010-08-11

Why not keep the Palettes as they are in order to stuff insulation in between them??

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widesheds made it!(author)2010-06-23

Hay Nice... Person may take an advantage to prepare a nice plan regarding them shed. So, please keep updates in it. & yes Thanks for sharing this great information with us.

author
JamesTB13 made it!(author)2010-06-21

I've always wanted a little club-house/fort type thing. This is perfect! I'll just look behind Rona, use their pallets. I agree with patmac, it's VERY well written. Thank you for putting this up, and great Instructable. Also, to InvaderDig, lol. That's all I can say. P.S., I take it, from you always referring to 'my students', that you're a teacher, KEEP TEACHING THIS KIND OF STUFF, IT'S AWESOME.

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MCASOTTANA2 made it!(author)2010-06-20

Great idea! It can lead to many more creative structures!

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seamsbysami made it!(author)2010-06-19

wow! this is cool ive always wanted an easy way to make a garden shed good job.

author
shooby made it!(author)2010-06-14

Great idea. I'd love to see a formal application of this, perhaps combined with another re-purposed material for finish and insulation.

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darlingtom made it!(author)2010-06-08

People need to be careful. Wikipedia has a nice, informative and slightly scary entry on pallets. The National Wood Pallet and Container Association is less fearful (go figure).

Pallets used for international trade need to be treated so that bugs do not go from one country to another. There are two methods used: Heat and Chemical.  Heat treatment is marked HT and, from what I can gather, is considered safe.  I also use local pallets not designed to leave the area (there is a pallet factory five miles away).

Be careful.  Do some research.  Check the markings for HT.

author
Speedmite made it!(author)2010-06-06

Nice job but, if you cling wrapped the entire thing, wouldnt there be a risk of suffacation?

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darlingtom made it!(author)2010-06-08

We left the roof open. It was just for demonstration purposes as it sat in the lab. When I bring it home, I'll sheath it in plywood.

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inspiredjules made it!(author)2010-06-07

Thank you so much for this idea! I'm lucky enough to have a roof over my head but I have been searching for weeks for a way to build a cheap, not over the top cubby house for my daughter and I'm stoked that it's easy enough for me to give it a go - I won't have to rely on hubby to walk me through every step, although no doubt once I start it will suddenly be his project! :) Anyway, as I'm new to this site just thought I'd say it's great and I can't wait to have a go. Cheers.

author
darlingtom made it!(author)2010-06-08

Two things to note. First, some pallets are smoother than others. If you put a skin of plywood on the inside and outside, great. Otherwise, be aware of splinters and choose your pallets with care. Second, note how hard pallet wood is. It lasts, but driving a nail was an issue for my kids. We pre-drilled, which I was unsure if I mentioned. Doable and easy, but perhaps unexpected. My friend created a playhouse with just the walls, cut windows and put window boxes on them, and grew vines. The "idea" of a house was enough, and it looked natural in her garden. Good luck.

author
katerlyn made it!(author)2010-06-05

CHUCKLE about MIL coming to stay. I love these instructables, thanks for the great thought inducing instructable.

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blopez made it!(author)2010-06-04

For the first three years of my life (1949 to 1952) I lived in a two room house that my father and uncle built over two weekends using wooden orange crates and tar paper. Housing was in short supply just after the war as were building materials. It was heated with a wood stove, water had to be hauled in and an outhouse sat a short walk away. The second room was downright cold in the winter when the fire went out during the night. I'm told I woke in the morning with frost on my diaper.

author
wstarvingteacher made it!(author)2010-06-03

 As a variation, one of the local motorcycle dealers had shipping crates to give away.  About 4X10.  I used them for the walls and the frame for an outside shed/shop on my property.  Used salvage metal roofing I picked up from the junkyard for the roof and landscape timbers where the crates would not suffice.

 This is not meant to be oneupmanship.  Just to say that the stuff is durable (same pallet material as here).  It has been up over 10 years without any maint. Probably cost me less than $500 to make about a 20X20 shed.


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rick.leasure made it!(author)2010-06-03

While I was reading this, I thought of what I would do if I didn't have a place to live. Pallets converted into a living space seems like a way to go. Build it in a thicket for protection and to hide it from view. Use found, recyclable materials to weatherproof it.

A friend once took an uninsulated outbuilding and lined the inside with first plastic, then cardboard to make a cozy home for himself.

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lucek made it!(author)2010-06-03

again this is a really good project but as the state round here hands out compost bins for practical nothing there's not much reason for me to go to the trouble for an inferior bin.
http://www.mass.gov/dep/recycle/reduce/images/bothbins.jpg

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somethingsaurus made it!(author)2010-06-03

except that the site is called "instructables" and not "readymadeproductsgivenawayforfree" (which would be a good site)

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lucek made it!(author)2010-06-03

I don't argue the point, I was just commenting that it's moot for me. for people who don't have their taxes go to subsidize compost this is fine (air flow and turning may be a problem).

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Skullbot made it!(author)2010-05-28

 Why not just pull the nails and use the individual boards as raw lumber?

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johnpombrio made it!(author)2010-05-28

 Heh, It is obvious that you have never tried to remove the nails from a pallet! There are TONS of nails and they are usually clinched over, rusted and deeply embedded. The fastest way is to properly leverage the boards and then jump on the cross joint which, as I found out, is DANGEROUS!

author
somethingsaurus made it!(author)2010-06-03

The quickest way to liberate the boards is a reciprocating saw with a metal cut blade.  You can also cut it along the inside edge of the support beam if you don't want to be bothered with removing the last bit of nail and shroten the total length.

You are right.  Not only is it very difficult to pull, you risk cracking the board as they tend to be hardwoods.

author
darlingtom made it!(author)2010-05-29

Check out "Pallet Playhouse" for information on deconstructing pallets.

Pallets are made for a heavy load, to be knocked around, scraped, poked with a forklift, dropped and then shipped around the world.  In short, they are tough.  Johnpombrio is correct: The wood is rough and hard, all held together with nails that will not quit.  The author of "Pallet Playhouse" finds some ways around it, but even his methods produce a lot of sweat and waste.

Still, those same attributes make for a heck of a strong frame.  Put some plywood of this frame and it is not going anywhere.

author
Lucy1365 made it!(author)2010-06-03

Some years back, I tried to make a compost bin out of pallets.  But it was one of those projects that didn't get finished. 
Where I live, pallets are accessable since many carpet plants are in the area.    They can be used for so many different projects, such as chicken coops, vegetable gardens, dog houses, etc.  Why not put them to good use?





www.basicdogtraining.info

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somethingsaurus made it!(author)2010-06-03

I took 3 pallets and nailed them at the top and put long stakes through the top to keep them upright.  After that they really don't move at all.  You can add a 4th wall to keep it all closed in if you like.

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patmac made it!(author)2010-06-03

I enjoyed reading your instructable not only for the subject matter, which is amazingly creative, but because it is written so well.  Your use of the language is correct as is your spelling and I can't tell you how satisfing it is to read such a well written article.   Thank you.

author
BobS made it!(author)2010-05-27

Great idea! 3 remarks:

If it is built outdoors it should rest on and be connected to 4+ foundation blocks (buckets filled with concrete) with thread sticking out, so it can widthstand storms.

Be careful for splinters!

Building regulations...vs. hiding in sight

author
darlingtom made it!(author)2010-05-29

All true.  We had many discussions on safety and long term viability (and not being crushed by the first rainstorm).

As we built my students had a hundred ways to improve it, shore it up, and make it something more than a scrappy eyesore ready to fall over.  What I liked about their design--and our project--is that it serves as a base from which people can adapt it to their resources and needs.  This is why we stopped at this point; we hoped those who found use for it would make it their own.

Half of my students wanted to take it home, and each had a different idea of what to do with it (it will become a shed for my wife's motorcycle and some garden tools).

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knexfan9182 made it!(author)2010-05-28

The best part about this is that pallets are very cheap.

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MoonieK made it!(author)2010-05-27

Awesome you have inspired me to have a go myself!

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sodiumcanine made it!(author)2010-05-27


 Just have seen Pallet homes in action in Haiti, with blue tarp/ old advertising
banners. Still pretty rough.

author
Christian28 made it!(author)2010-05-27

What is great the pallet house?

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Tool+Using+Animal made it!(author)2010-05-27

The idea of this, with a sod roof and grape vines on the side, make me all fuzzy warm inside.

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Culturespy made it!(author)2010-05-27

 Now I can have that rooftop office I've always wanted!

author
InvaderDig made it!(author)2010-05-27

What a great use for pallets. I think I'll build one of these for when my mother in law comes for a stay.

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