John Weber has a website called Weber Woodworking, but if you go there expecting to see his woodworking prowess, you are going to be disappointed. Instead, you will find something that may be far more valuable, at least to us woodworkers: a remarkably handy site where you can buy vintage parts for your old Delta, Delta/Milwaukee and Rockwell/Delta tools. For those of us who have ever tried hunting down parts for discontinued tools, or gone through the grief of hearing a manufacturer tell us they no longer stock parts for a tool we love, this is no small thing.
How John went from occasional woodworking to the somewhat unique position of being the “go-to guy” for vintage Delta parts is perhaps even more astounding than the staggering number of parts he currently warehouses. “By training,” John told me, “I am a civil engineer, and worked for Phillips Electronics for about six years after college. After my daughter was born, I chose to be a stay at home father doing hobby woodworking on the side. I used to post regularly on the now extinct Badger Pond message board, but at present, woodworking is currently in hiatus; I’m just too busy.
“On Badger Pond I had a reputation for machine rebuilding, and had as much interest in that as in actual woodworking. Perhaps because of that, I was contacted in 2002 by someone from Delta looking for someone who might be interested in acquiring obsolete parts. Since I was unemployed at the time, I decided to go into the obsolete parts business.
“Before long, I had two tractor trailer loads of parts delivered to my home. My basement, garage, shop and yard were all full. I had parts everywhere, even though I scrapped a lot of parts that I felt were not worth stocking. By the time I would clear some space, the next tractor trailer would show up.
“When Delta was sold to Black and Decker in 2004, they went to a third party service parts supplier. You could no longer call Delta and get them to either send or make the part for you. The third party group did not want to stock as many parts. They wanted to send me 10 tractor trailer loads in 2005. I found some warehouse space and took them. All told, there have been 13 loads so far. I have some very old items, but the bulk of the parts I stock are from the 1980s and newer. I even have some parts, albeit very few, from machines currently in production.
“At present, I stock about 5,000 different parts housed in about 10,000 square feet of warehouse. All told, I stock some 300,000 pieces. The warehouse is set up so that most parts are in four foot by four foot boxes, with each labeled as to what is inside. When I get an order, I either remember where things are or I go searching. All the items are listed on an Excel spreadsheet with the original Delta part numbers, which makes it a bit easier to look up what’s needed.
“Oddly enough, I now sell back to Delta. If someone calls them looking for a part that they don’t stock anymore, and it is one of those that Delta knows that I carry, they buy it back from me at wholesale prices and then sell it to their customer. In essence, they are using me as a warehouse so they can continue to supply parts without actually having to maintain the space and personnel needed to do that on-site. As a result, Delta is by far my largest customer.
“In addition to selling back to Delta, I sell direct to anyone who finds me. The primary way people find me is through eBay. I post things on eBay that have a more universal appeal, such as switches, motors and parts that could be used on other machines. Drill press handles are a good example. I’ve probably sold at least 150 of those handles. It’s a standard thread that fits a lot of different tools. While sales to Delta covers my basic overhead, eBay sales cover everything else. Other than these channels, I don’t do any advertising. I’m not really set up to be much bigger, so I don’t have a lot of impetus to spread the word.
“I do have a phone number, but far and away the best way to contact me is through my email address, firstname.lastname@example.org. Frankly, if you need to talk to someone about finding a part, it’s better to go through Delta. They are better at turning a description into a part number. If you are not sure what you need, definitely call Delta. The order will still come back to me, but they will act as interpreter to get you from a general description to a specific part number.
“Still, coming direct to me can have its advantages. For example, today I have a jointer head listed on eBay that you could buy for $200. If you bought it from Delta, they would charge you $965 plus shipping.
“Personally, I feel there’s a lot to be said for buying and keeping old tools. I, for instance, have the lathe I took middle school woodshop on. It’s solid, runs great, and is a beautiful machine.”
Beyond the emotional connection we have with our tools and the fact that restoring is considered a very “green” option these days, I was pleased to hear John argue for an even more basic reason to keep the old iron going; quality.
“Granted, there is sentimentality involved in owning old tools,” John admitted, “but there’s a lot to be said for reusing, rebuilding and restoring old metal. The old tools were built well, built heavily and built to last.”
Now, thanks to him, they can be rebuilt when needed as well.