Meet Knifemaker & Designer Lucas Burnley

The words “Put in the Hours” are posted on the wall of Lucas Burnley’s workshop. A seemingly simple phrase, the message is the invisible force that has propelled every experience

in Lucas’ life forward—from how he first gained his footing at a young age in the world of knifemaking, to his life-changing relocations within the last 5 years—moving from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and finally settling in Bend, Oregon. Every moment of Lucas’ story points to a reminder that if you’re passionate about something, you’ll never regret the work required to make it all happen.

On the Road

Before his family settled in Albuquerque at the age of 12, Lucas grew up in a bus—a converted bookmobile from the ‘70’s to be exact. Even then, the one object Lucas consistently carried was a knife. Indeed, his father remembers that Lucas’ earliest career ambitions were to be a knifemaker. In the midst of their cross-country travel, his family often made pit stops at bustling flea markets to sell serapes (blanket-like textiles) they had picked up in Mexico or items they had made. These sales allowed them to continue their life on the road and were pivotal in Lucas’ knifemaking journey. From the tables of imported samurai swords to vintage knives of every style, he began to hone his eye for design and quality—separating the wheat from the chaff. “I probably didn’t realize at the time but I was formulating the concepts that would ultimately lead to where I am today.”

By the age of 16, Lucas’ curiosity to learn to build bicycles led him to leave home and enroll in a Government welding program, serving as his first foray into structured metal work. Soon thereafter, Lucas began working at a small machine shop that specialized in making titanium body jewelry. Immersed in this environment of newfound possibilities, Lucas learned some of the high-level manufacturing processes and finishing techniques that he would later use in knifemaking.

“I made my first knife when I was around 17 years old,” says Lucas. “I was still in welding school at the time, but when I graduated from the Job Corps, they gave me a readjustment fund. It was probably intended that I would buy some clothes or boots for work, but I took all of that money and put it toward buying a Bader 2×72 knife grinder. I still have that exact grinder, and I use it every day. It’s definitely an old friend.”


The Analog Way

Back at Lucas’ workshop, he gives us the tour of all the equipment—from hi-tech to hand tools—that he uses to bring his ideas to life. For the majority of the past 20 years, the workshop, in the general sense, has been Lucas’ home, and it has a personal charm that comes through when you walk through the door. Pictures of family and personal memorabilia are proudly displayed on the walls, offering a peek into Lucas’ journey from self-taught starter to established designer and maker. Above all, the unique touches are a reminder just how Lucas’ creations are not tools devoid of origin, but rather as extensions of this maker’s identity.

Sitting in the middle of the room is a workbench with some of Lucas’ sketches laid out. As he shows us different prototypes, he begins sharing his perspective on the value of doing things by hand—the importance of approaching learning the “analog way”.

“When I started making knives, learning new techniques and processes wasn’t as easy as it is today. You really had to put in the work to seek that information out. My library started to get bigger and bigger. I taught myself how to cord-wrap a knife (Obake) by practicing for hours after seeing an example in a museum. And if you saw a technique you liked that another maker was using, you’d think ‘I’m going to write this guy a letter and ask if he’ll tell me how to do it’. With regard to the latter, this type of information sharing was honest. And in that, there’s also this sense of lineage.”

Lucas recalls actively seeking out the guidance from custom knifemaker and American Bladesmith Society Mastersmith, Joe Cordova. One-to-one time spent with Cordova and other seasoned knifemakers influenced Lucas’ conscious decision to honor the history behind his craft. This way of paying tribute to his predecessors reveals just how much Lucas’ creations are pieces of a larger picture.

“When you just look at social media, you don’t know the history. You don’t know the stories,” says Lucas. “I’ve always realized the benefit that technology and social media provides, but it’s also important to know ‘the why.’ I’m interested in the history behind designs and I try to figure out where techniques come from. As our industry progresses, being able to give people their due is really important. In a similar way I value analog learning but I embrace technological advancements. Both are valuable tools in a maker’s repertoire.”

As Lucas turns over the newly released Squid™ model in his hands, we can see why it’s a classic. As an easy-to-carry, compact design, it gleams with strength and durability. Lucas notes that this latest Squid™ is equipped with an Assisted Opening mechanism that revolutionized the industry, created by Knifemaker’s Hall of Fame Member, Ken Onion. 

“The Squid™ has been pivotal for me not only in the custom industry, but with CRKT® as well. My goal isn’t to be super-prolific, but I do strive for my designs to be iconic. The Squid™ inside of CRKT® is the closest I’ve come to reaching that.”

Inspiration without Limits

While uncovering tried-and-true knifemaking techniques is part of Lucas’ learning process, he finds inspiration all around.

Lucas refers to himself as a tourist in many areas of life, constantly dipping his toes into new water and dabbling in everything from learning how to surf Bend’s Whitewater River, to track days on a motorcycle, to a brief stint in knitting. He jokes that while he’s not an expert at any one thing, he enjoys the process of discovery. “A few years ago I took a personality test out of sheer curiosity, and figured out that I’m a ‘learner.’ I love learning as much as I can about a broad range of subjects.”

This eclectic approach to life extends to knifemaking where he’s been able to push himself and achieve success even in the failures. 

“Even though I’ve been making knives for close to 20 years now I still lean into the failures,” says Lucas. “The more you learn, the higher your standards become, the more you fail. I view this as growth through failure. Creating knives was the first thing I did that for me, didn’t have a ceiling. There’s always another technique, skill, or genre to explore. I haven’t been able to get bored, and that’s a gift.” 

Lucas’ bookshelves brim with all kinds of topics ranging from farming to furniture and fashion. As we scan the collection, like with any designer or creative maker, we naturally become curious if there’s a specific place from where he draws his inspiration.

“I’ve always tried to pull just from my life and other interests,” says Lucas. “A lot of the things that most directly affect my work aren’t related to knives. I like to surround myself with things that inspire me. I have a pretty extensive library that has nothing to do with knives at all, but a lot of it is based around some type of creative process or someone’s life work. Right now I’m really interested in ‘color’ and its effect on design so I’m having fun reading Pantone: The Twentieth Century in Color. It really runs the gamut.”

Filling his world with interesting stories and pastimes, Lucas notes there’s value in pivoting your

focus to something beyond what’s directly in front of you. Lucas’ company, BRNLY Brand, was born out of his varied interests and became a place where he could explore non-knife projects and fuel his passion for design, collaboration, and community.

Work Hard. Do Good.

In 2013, Lucas launched what would later become BRNLY Brand with his flagship product, the BRNLY Cypop. Part bottle opener, part pocket charm, and part challenge coin, the idea behind Lucas’ Cypop was to include people in the brand beyond the world of custom knives. And sure enough, people wanted in, causing Cypops to skyrocket in popularity and demand that grew a large and tight-knit community of collectors. 

Lucas is quick to acknowledge how much he values his customers and supporters that allow him to do what he loves. With the Cypop’s growing popularity, he saw an opportunity to use his platform as a means of giving back to an organization that helped him and his family as a child—Marine Toys for Tots. 

Every year since 2013, Lucas produces a special line of holiday Cypops which he then raffles off over a 24-hour period. 100% of the raffle proceeds go directly toward the purchase of high-quality toys, which are then donated to local Toys for Tots organizations. This grassroots event called “Cypop 4 Tots” exemplifies the community and the Brand’s Work Hard. Do Good. credo that they embody. 

Lucas’ continual gesture of good has had a successful run of 8 years, during which time, his community of supporters have raised over $430,000.

Making Time Count

While his workshop is where you’ll find Lucas putting in the long hours, it’s also the place that

holds the reminders behind why Lucas continues doing what he does. As his wife and business partner, Maddie, pops in to shoot product photography upstairs, he introduces us to his family. In the same way personal photographs of Lucas’ journey are entwined throughout his shop, we see just how important it is for him to be a great husband and father, in the same way he is a great knifemaker.

“At this point when I think about dreams and goals for the future, I’m in an interesting period of my life,” says Lucas. “I’ve had the benefit of focusing solely on my work for the last two decades, which is a bit surreal as I’ll be turning 40 this year. Now, I’m trying to think about how I can be more present for my family, and how I can give my kids a really good childhood that’s memorable for them. There’s an obsessive quality to this type of work that I’ve had to learn to balance for the benefit of the people I love.”

While balancing family life and work has inevitably evolved since the start of his journey, the constant that remains across Lucas’ personal and professional life is his fierce and undying dedication. From falling in love with the craft many years ago, to building a successful career as a professional knifemaker and designer, Lucas Burnley isn’t afraid to work hardbecause every hour he puts in goes toward creating something truly remarkable.

“Quality over quantity in general is conceptual. Obviously it can relate to a product, but it can relate to our time. I look at time as the only asset that’s not replaceable. I feel the same way about my work—quality over quantity. I can make more. Or I can make better.”

Oyster Farmers Alice & Van Helker with the Bona Fide:

Off the beaten path, nestled between the Olympic National Forest and the sweeping shorelines of Hood Canal we find Set & Drift’s basecamp. Apart from the softly glowing string lights resting peacefully in the canopy of 200 year old trees, the early morning light serves as our trusty guide for our descent to the shoreline below. 

Once on the sandy shore, Alice and Van Helker, co-owners of Set & Drift wave us over. If it was an early dawn morning, you wouldn’t know it the way the two fjord oyster farmers climb aboard their oyster skiff, wading yards away as they begin strategically unclipping oyster bags. To an outsider the scene might appear like any ordinary day of harvesting, but there’s something special to be said about the blood, sweat, and tears they’ve shed to arrive at this place of routine.

Hard Work Below the Calm Current  

Years ago, Alice and Van joined the same uniform service aboard NOAA scientific research vessels, channeling their pursuit for biology and natural science out in the wide open sea. While the immersive experience brought them up close to unparalleled oceanic wonders, it proved equally strenuous, demanding they be stationed separately for long periods of time. 

“We knew we wanted to build a life together,” Alice says. “A drive to build something of our own began to creep up, so we started pursuing the idea of oyster farming.” 

Drawn to the sustainability of oyster cultivation, Alice and Van began a new leg in their scientific (and personal) journey in 2013 after finally hunting down the perfect tideland along the Toandos peninsula on Hood Canal. This is where Set & Drift shellfish farm would form its legacy.

Boots, Gloves, and the Do-It-All Knife

When asked what everyday tools can make or break a day of labor, there’s no hesitation in the response we hear. Boots, gloves, and a knife.  

Having the grit, know-how, and discipline to navigate oyster farming’s demanding ways, it makes sense that Alice and Van are selective with the tools they carry. Power and versatility are essential, but so is size—hauling bulky or heavy equipment up and down the steep hillside to the tidelands is simply not an option. 

Handing over the Bona Fide™ to the two oyster farmers, it’s not long before we see the knife brandished across rope and netting throughout the day. Made of sturdy 3” blade steel, it’s just the right size for withstanding the hard maintenance of oyster farm life. It’s also a huge plus that the Bona Fide™ features award-winning Field Strip Gen II, which allows for on-the-spot, quick disassembly, requiring no extra tools for maintenance. 

As the blade deploys smoothly with the IKBS™ ball bearing pivot system, there’s a collective wave of appreciation for its sheer speed. A powerful tool that moves as fast as the tides—there’s no question the Bona Fide™ was made for this trade.

At the Mercy of the Mother Nature

Alice lugs several bags of oysters over to their boat in preparation for the morning delivery. “When it’s time to harvest, we pull them straight out of the water and load them up the same day. This keeps the oysters fresher and tastier.” 

When they’re not making their weekly delivery rounds to surrounding markets, there’s constant maintenance to be done back at the farm. Because in this line of work, only those willing to keep up with Mother Nature’s slew of unpredictable ways will thrive. 

“There’s no typical year. There’s always something different going on in nature,” Van says. “It really comes down to perseverance and adaptability in figuring out how to farm your beach. There are a lot of different environmental conditions you can be subjected to, like tides or logs coming through farms during storms.”

As Alice and Van show us the ropes along the shoreline, we notice there’s already a drastic difference in how far the tide has receded. It becomes clear just how much of a race against the clock they constantly facehow every day is an ongoing commitment to the farm’s success. 

“It’s a hard thing to explain to people how timing is so important to our work. Where we are, the tidal change can be up to 17 feet,” Alice says as she grabs a heavy duty crate to begin sorting their oyster haul. “And on top of that, they change throughout the year.”

The Perfect Shuck 

After clearing a couple solid hours of sorting, Alice and Van round up some oysters for everyone to snack on. We prep the surface of a massive beach log to create a makeshift picnic table, as Alice tends to the fire pit a few feet away. Slipping on gloves, Alice lays down a handkerchief with a beautiful Fjordlux oyster in tow.

“How we grow our oysters is we tumble them, which forces them to grow more of a cup shape rather than just long and flat,” Alice says, motioning the knife’s tip around the oyster’s silhouette. “There’s the hinge shuck method, which is more appropriate to open the size of the oyster we grow. So you insert your knife at about a forty-five degree angle here at the top, then carefully work it into the hinge to the point where the oyster can hang out on the knife on its own. Then just turn the knife about 90 degrees.”

POP. The oyster’s top shell neatly rises up, resting on the surface of Alice’s stainless steel blade. 

“See this in the upper right? That’s the adductor muscle, “Alice points it out to us. “Really the only point of a perfect shuck is to nab the adductor muscle so that you get this really clean, beautiful shuck.” 

Alice tosses it on the grill, then shucks more for us to consume raw. This time she uses the knife to neatly slice off the oyster off the bottom shell, making it easy to slurp straight from the shell. One by one we relish in the crisp salty goodness of the Fjordlux oysters, marveling at its intricate journey from the water to our tastebuds.

The Give and Take

Taking in everything the two oyster farmers have endured to build their business, there’s immeasurable respect for Alice and Van’s everyday commitment. Not only in their cultivation of appetizing oysters, but in their strides toward sustainability. 

“Oysters are filter feeders, which means that they eat the phytoplankton that passes by,” Alice says. “Without filter feeders, algae blooms spike and use up all the oxygen in the area, which then leads to areas where nothing can live. Essentially, oysters keep nutrients in the waters balanced. Among other things, farming oysters brings this ecosystem service back, while not reducing wild populations.”

As the day winds down, Alice and Van’s three-year-old son Wayne joins us on the beach. Fearlessly exploring the sandy terrain, it’s clear just how much this environment has made an imprint on his adventurous spirit. There’s a dawning realization how everything Alice and Van has thus poured into Set & Drift is finally moving full circle–how this special place offers a priceless return to the two farmers who continue to tenderly care for it. 

“Day after day, just being around natural processes that are so much older and bigger puts much of life into perspective,” Alice says. “Life can be hectic. At times full of worry. But the natural world on the macro scale just isn’t in comparison. Things happen slowly on this immense scale. And that’s calming to be around.”

CRKT’s Rarest Pieces: The Limited Edition and Exclusives List

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