Let’s celebrate the hardest workers we know. At OXX our products are built tough to get the job done. We are inspired by the people that put in the time and effort to do things the right way. Whether they’re in the shop, on the jobsite, or in the field they continue to define hard work. We want to know what fuels them, how they got where they are now, and uncover what happens behind the grind. They are the leaders of the Herd, and these are their stories.
You may recognize John Malecki from his time on the field with the Pittsburgh Steelers. These days he’s playing a different position and turning in his helmet for a welding mask. The internet knows him as “The Builder”, a full time maker based in his hometown of Pittsburgh. He’s got his hands full with his custom fabrication and design business, and popular Youtube channel. He stepped out of the shop for a moment to chat with us about his roots in Pittsburgh, his time in the NFL, becoming a full-time Maker, and how it all started with a broken coffee table.
You grew up in Pittsburgh. You played football for Pitt. You were signed to the Steelers and now your own business is thriving there. What does your hometown mean to you?
Pittsburgh to me is like the embodiment of hope. The people in the city of Pittsburgh are upbeat, passionate people. There’s a lot of great things happening right now, it’s unbelievable. It’s rooted in very blue collar families that have been around for decades working in the steel mills — real hardcore laborers. These are the people you look at from history and see the embodiment of work ethic. It’s a city with tons of opportunity, you just gotta put the work in.
How does that influence your work as a maker?
The city is the hub of industry. It’s where the industrial revolution jump started. Steel was pumped out here to build America. It’s got old roots, and buildings that are hundreds of years old in very historic areas. I like to incorporate that old, industrial style into my furniture and design work. Whether it’s using recycled materials, doing metal work, or repurposing materials from the area. Being a Pittsburgher reflects my style for sure.
How did John Malecki the football player become “The Builder” we know today?
The story is that there was an away game, and my roommate at the time wanted to have some people over. The coffee table was broken and I wanted to fix it. I ended up building a whole new table. That turned into me building things for my family and friends, and then it became more than just a hobby. It became something I was really into.
“I am truly a firm believer that if you put your mind to something and apply relentless hard work you can get something out of it.”
Something I took from my time in the NFL and all I’ve ever really known is work. I am truly a firm believer that if you put your mind to something and apply relentless hard work you can get something out of it. That’s how I go about my craft now and that’s how I did it when I played football. I just showed up everyday, shut my mouth, put my head down and got to work. I did everything I could to put myself in the best position I possibly could be in to win or compete or help my team.
How do you define hard work?
You could be working hard whether you’re on a ladder building roofs all day or sitting behind a desk. It comes down to what has to get done and then getting it done. Hard work is intently working through things as efficiently as possible with the objective in mind. Whether that’s finishing a project or bringing something to life for a client.
In football you have an opponent, You need to study the book or get in the film room and learn everything you possibly can about them to execute that objective. That being said I don’t want to take away from anyone, because there’s a huge amount of people doing amazing things that aren’t physically beating the crap out of themselves.
Who inspires you?
One person in my craft and in the field that inspires me is Jimmy DiResta. He’s a very talented maker that lives in New York City. I learned a lot from him on Youtube and I’m definitely influenced by his style. I think he’s phenomenal. He’s not just one of those Youtubers who is out to make money. He builds for a living and puts out videos to provide for others. He’s probably old enough to be my dad but he’s still pushing himself to be better at what he’s doing and he’s been doing it for his whole life. He’s making a living with his hands and I find a ton of inspiration from that.
My mom and dad are hugely inspirational for myself. They’re blue collar, hard working, Pittsburghers. I don’t know how else to put it. My mom owns a hair salon and my dad has been a custodian for a long time. There is nothing glamorous about it but he’s always just kept his mouth shut and got the job done. It’s super impressive to me.
“They’re blue collar, hard working, Pittsburghers.
I don’t know how else to put it.”
When I was in athletics he was always telling me “You can be the best guy on the field today but there’s always someone bigger and better out there than you are” and I still apply that to my life today. The way I work now, I see these other guys on the internet and I know I’m not as talented as them and my work is not up to their standard, but I go back to that advice. Growing up as a kid and him beating it into my head that there’s always going to be someone bigger and better. If you’re not working, they are going to be working towards it. I draw a lot of inspiration from his influence. My mother has always been the family rock. She does a phenomenal job of taking care of everything from my brother to my grandparents and her siblings. She embodies that balance of being a mother, a sister, a daughter, and a wife. She does a great job and that’s really inspirational.
When you don’t know anything else, you always go back to what you’re comfortable with. When you know that you know you have a good chance of of being able to outwork people, you can rely on it. One thing I’ve always learned from athletics and from life, is that you can’t control your environment. You can’t control a lot of the stuff around you but you can always control your mindset and your effort. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in an office chair or doing something with your hands, you can walk in each day with a positive mindset, a good head on your shoulders and know that you are going to work your ass off to achieve your goals. No one can take that from you, your environment can’t take that from you, that’s all on you. There is no excuse for not doing it.
What was one of your proudest moments as a maker?
My last project. I’ve been fortunate enough recently to be put on a few projects where I am installing things for businesses that are seen by a lot of people. I did a walnut bar table with a big truck looking base. I was in the space last week and these designers were there and said ‘“Everyone coming in here is in love with that piece, you did a phenomenal job.” For that to come from industry pros, I was really proud of that moment and for someone in the industry to really dig what I was doing.
Most of my proudest moments are related to sports, so it’s tough to look at furniture making in the same light. I love the connection I get with a client when I make something custom for them that they have been envisioning for a long time. I never realized it before but I love the fact that you can do something with design or furniture and genuinely bring people together and bring joy to their life. Whether it’s something small and simple like an end table or all the way up to designing someone’s entire living space, it can bring a smile to people and the people in their lives and that’s a lot of fun.
How do you take your coffee?
Black. Single origin if I can, and by the gallon…
What is the best part of the job?
My favorite part is always the reaction when the client is able to see the final product. That interaction is what I really love. That’s the most beautiful aspect of the craft. It isn’t just being in a dark basement by yourself and cranking out furniture to make a buck. It’s getting to take someone’s vision and my skills to bring it to life and bring them enjoyment. I love that part.
Outside of your profession, where else do you work hard?
Everything relates back to business for me. When you’re in business for yourself it’s about doing things to better yourself. Reading and researching about business self development. But I pride myself on being a contributing member of society. I make time for my family and friends as much as I can. I’m very fortunate to have a tight knit group of people who love and afford me the opportunity to be a part of their lives. So I love being able to be able to pay them back with my time. I put a lot of effort into trying to be there for others. I do some coaching on the side for athletics. I dabble in a few aspects but I don’t work on anything as hard as I do as pushing myself in business. It’s my livelihood.
If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring makers what would it be?
Take your time. When I got started building I was in a rush to get good quickly and I compromised a lot of the parts of craft that you really learn to enjoy. You try to do things quickly and efficiently to get things done and then you cut corners. So take your time and actually learn the craft. Don’t get things done quickly just to make a buck putting something out there.
Take your time and learn to do hand cut dovetails, complex joinery and woodworking, or teach yourself how to TIG weld aluminum or whatever it might be. Push your craft and take time to learn why there are masters and experts and it will really bring a lot of appreciation to it for you. There’s a lot of people out there who’ve been makers for longer than some of us have been on this Earth. Those are the true heroes.
“Take your time, be patient, don’t be a millennial, and learn to appreciate the craft.”
If you take time to appreciate the craft you can learn a lot. You put a whole rocking chair together but it will never be what Sam Maloof did to the world of rocking chairs because it’s completely different. So just take your time, be patient, don’t be a millennial, and learn to appreciate the craft. It exists and it has lasted the test of time because it’s a beautiful thing. It’s artistic, it’s empowering, it’s more than just building to make money. I think that’s something that get’s lost in today’s world.
What do you aspire to accomplish in your lifetime?
I’m a big legacy person. I want to be remembered for being a nice guy, someone who was always there for the people he loves. My biggest dream is to become a father. I love the idea of passing on knowledge and skills. My dad passed on his work ethic and his backbone and pride. That’s my goal. I want to be remembered as someone who put forth the effort and got recognition that was for the work. If I am going to be recognized for anything it’s going to be for bettering the community or helping people learn that they can aspire to be anything they want and go achieve it. We live in a skewed world nowadays where people think it’s cool to have 38 thousand Instagram followers but what does that mean if you’re not doing anything to better those people’s lives?
I would like to be remembered as somebody that was driven, that was inspirational, caring, and overall a good man.
Follow John on Instagram: @John_Malecki