James White

Always humble, “I can’t wrap my head around people knowing who I am and me not knowing who they are.” We definitely know who you are James White. 

However, for anyone hiding under a rock, let me introduce you to James White of James White Custom Cues in this month’s “Meet the Cue Maker”.

James White, 56, resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has 4 children: Lauren, Nicholas, Jacob and Rachel: 2 of which he lives with. He has spent most of his life in the Pittsburgh area. Growing up, James always had an interest in building and design and thought he would pursue a career as either a veterinarian or an architect. Quite the difference in direction but as it turns out he became both a thriving cue maker as well as having an established career in Pathology. Over the years, he’s found a way to balance and continue in both pursuits.

James’ introduction to the pool scene began around the age of 18 when he started shooting pool in college. By the mid-80s, he was in his early twenties and started hanging around a pool room called “Pinky’s Billiard Parlor” over in Pittsburgh. It was the same pool room local cue maker Paul Mottey was often found at when he wasn’t working at his cue shop. James first met Paul in 1988 but it was in 1990 when he decided he wanted a Paul Mottey custom cue for himself. He gave the cue maker a deposit but will laughingly tell you that he, like many, lacked the patience to see it through. After pestering Paul continuously for updates, he was eventually given his deposit back that same year. Instead of waiting for one to be built, James purchased a Mottey cue that was available in the showcase at Pinky’s. He bought the 4-point cue along with 3 shafts for $450 which was a steal at that time as it would normally go for about $800. He decided to modify the cue by sanding it down and staining the maple grey. Looking back, he says it was “quite nonsense” but turned out ok as he was able to resell the cue. By 1992, James began working at a local pool room called “Mr. Pockets” and was still tinkering around with basic cue modifications. Shortly after, he joined Paul Mottey and also began working part-time at Mottey’s Cue shop. As if he didn’t have enough going on, he additionally started pursuing his associate’s degree and began establishing a career in Pathology. 

By 28, James was working his primary job in pathology along with learning how to build cues under legendary cue maker Paul Mottey. Paul’s cue shop was located over an auto repair shop in Overbrook, Pennsylvania. It was there, James began learning to spray and finish the cues for Mottey. He then gradually began building sneaky Pete’s in addition to turning shafts and sanding cues. Throughout the years, he continued to learn from Paul and build cues under the Mottey name. In 1999, James purchased 49% of the Mottey cue business which included the equipment and customer base and also brought along 49% of the profit. It wasn’t until 2000 that James signed a cue under his own name in an effort to join the American Cue Makers Association. Although he didn’t end up pursuing the membership it did open the idea of building cues under his own name.

It was in 2003 when Paul and James decided to go in 50% each and purchase a pool room called “Breakers” over in the Dormont area of Pittsburgh. However, as time went on, Paul began spending more time in the pool room and less time building cues. Paul retired from cue building in 2007 and sold James the other 51% of the business in return for James’s 50% of the pool room. James continued to build cues under the Mottey name until 2010. When reflecting on his mentorship to James, Mottey explains that although he learned from scratch himself, he was happy to pass along his techniques to James. He even stated “James is probably a better cue maker then I am.” Quite the compliment from a Hall of Fame cue maker.

It was around 2011 when James decided to branch out onto his own and start consistently building cues under James White Custom Cues or JMW. He moved all the equipment from the cue shop in Overbrook to his 550 sq ft garage in Pittsburgh that he converted into a shop. He’s well equipped with 4 lathes, a mill, a shaft machine, a CNC machine as well as a few others. James prefers building cues using the half splice technique which as discussed in previous articles, is when the builder uses a single piece of wood and creates a V shaped groove for the veneers to lay over and then be turned down. He prefers this method as he says he has more control of the weight distribution and where the balance point falls. He creates the cue from start to finish minus the joints, screws and bumpers. James finds the hardest part of cue making is the repetitive stuff; the monotony of turning shafts and attaching joint collars. Although it’s a necessary part of the process, it doesn’t allow any room for creativity. He says the best part is “Making people happy and giving somebody something that they are hoping for and exceeding expectations.” He doesn’t have a favorite design but enjoys making each cue a little different. He does however, prefer to use ebony or ebony black rosewood as he believes it creates the classiest of looks. You’ll commonly find his signature hidden in the forearm and his JMW stamp on the butt of the cue. Although James states Paul Mottey has been his only real mentor when discussing construction methods, he does have a few influences. A few of his favorite cue makers are Dennis Searing, Pete Tonkin, Thomas Wayne and John Showman. Showman shows mutual respect saying, “He’s a great guy and great craftsman. He’s been doing some fantastic work for years and I always thought he was underappreciated.” That’s something we intend to correct! James White Custom Cues has long been a name in the cue building world, and we intend to get the word out.

It’s James’s passion for creativity that enables him to consistently carve out time from his main profession to continue building cues. He states that each cue has about 40-60 hours of hands-on work and will likely take no less than one year from start to finish. Be prepared to spend at least $2,500 depending on build and design. His career in pathology allows him enough time to produce about 20 cues per year and his waitlist is about 3 years long. Although he doesn’t have a broker, he currently provides Mark Kalunguan and Joe Van Buren with 5 cues per year. The rest of the 20 are pulled from his waitlist. So, if you’re looking to add a JMW cue to your arsenal the best way to do so would be to try your luck and be added to the waitlist, no deposit required. The best way to reach James is his business page on Facebook under James White Custom Cues. Any collector would be lucky to have a cue built by this multi-faceted cue maker.