John Malecki – From Football to Furniture

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The Steel City is the birthplace of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mr. Rogers, the Whiskey Rebellion, robots, and the polio vaccine. And nearby Homestead, Pa. is home to John Malecki, a former NFL player who had two stints with the Steelers before opening his own custom woodworking studio.  A scholarship athlete who studied marketing at the University of Pittsburgh, John became a self-taught woodworker after leaving the NFL in 2013.

Becoming a furnituremaker almost happened by accident. “I came home from a game to find that a roommate of mine sat on our coffee table and it broke, so we needed a new one,” he said.  John wanted something a little different than what could be purchased at a retail store, similar to a repurposed door table he had seen, so he did some research, bought a plan and the rest is history. “Then I had friends who were buying houses, and I built stuff for them. I just kept pushing my skill set and design aesthetic and turned it into a business that I’ve become really proud of.”

John’s workshop for his business, JM Custom Builds, is in the basement of this historic old school building in Homestead, Pa., an area which was once home to booming steel mills. Proud of his roots, John said, “There is a lot of rich history here, and my designs are inspired by that industrial, reclaimed feel.”


Though not a stranger to working with his hands while growing up helping his father and grandfather build things, John used online resources and forums to teach himself more about woodworking, metalworking and welding. “I am a huge YouTuber,” he said. “There is a vast amount of knowledge on any subject to be found on YouTube. That was a huge resource for me getting started.”

“Woodworking to me often comes off as an old-timey, gentleman’s craft. And my generation didn’t have the benefit of high school shop classes that are now cut from curriculum, so I like being part of a DIY movement that is starting to grow and evolve beyond the traditional,” John said. He is encouraged by meeting more and more men and women making furniture and owning businesses than ever before.

Furniture building is often seen as intimidating to many people. But John’s philosophy is “Get a few tools and learn some simple skills – that’s all you need to get started. Get a drill and a saw, see what you can make. It’s not the tools, it’s getting it done and seeing how creative you can be. There are 1,000 ways to do something.”

A one-man show, John wears many hats as a business owner – custom fabricator, designer, photographer, videographer, and marketing department, to name a few. “I will collaborate if I need an extra hand,” John explained, “but I do it all. I like creating my own look and feel for everything I do.”

The location of his business is huge asset for John. “I am fortunate to be in a city with so much history,” he said. “I try to embody that reclaimed, industrial aesthetic in my work. I mean, that’s Pittsburgh – brick and steel buildings with wooden walls all up and down downtown.” And like the city, John’s designs are built to stand the test of time. “That beam that held that floor for decades – that wood has a story to tell.”

Designing for homes as well as businesses, John has made a successful pass from the football field to being a full-time furnituremaker. “If I can make a living making things with my hands and helping to inspire others at the same time, that’s a bonus,” John said.

Large beam mantel
"Monster dining table"

Reclaimed table

Watch for more news from Pittsburgh as Woodcraft prepares to open a new store location not far from John’s workshop. He may even be able to provide us a sneak peek at the progress as that time grows closer!

To see more of John’s work, go to or go to YouTube  to follow his channel.

Stop by your local Woodcraft store for resources on furnituremaking or to take a class to learn how.

We hope you’ll be inspired!


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