Burnin' Hot

Lucas Burnley Is A Hit Among
Custom And Factory Knife Fans Alike

Burnley Kihon mid-tech folders

Plain and simple, among young custom knifemakers today, Lucas Burnley is red hot. And all things considered, he’s done it at light speed. While many full-time custom knifemakers start in their thirties — and indeed many after retirement — Lucas was a teenager when he dove into knifemaking. At the age of 33, he is riding a wave of success. “I was born in New Mexico, but my family was nomadic so I’ve lived all over the country. We moved back to New Mexico when I was 12, and I’ve been here ever since.” Burnley tells Handgunner, “I’ve been interested in knives for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the woods and always had a knife with me. I often joke if you saw a kid with a rat tail, a Karate headband, and a Bowie knife half as long as his leg running around a campground in the early ’80s, there’s a pretty good chance it was me.”

It didn’t take long for the knifemaking bug to bite Burnley. “I bought my first belt-grinder — a Bader B3 I still use daily — when I was 17, but I didn’t have a work space so it took me a bit longer to get rolling than I had planned. I made my first knife when I was about 20 years old. My early shop years were spent in single-car garages connected to apartment buildings.”

Like so many budding knifemakers, Lucas had a mentor. “The first knifemaker I met was Joe Cordova of Bosque Farms, New Mexico. Epic in his own right, Joe studied with legendary knifemakers Bill Moran and Bob Loveless,” informs Burnley. “Joe was making knives ranging from historical reproductions to modern designs using both forging and stock removal techniques. His broad-ranging skill set and eclectic design style had a strong influence on my early work because it opened my eyes to what’s possible. Over the years, he has answered more of my dumb questions than I would wish on any one person. His door was always open — I still have a key to his shop — and he was always willing to help. I’m proud to call him a friend and mentor.”

Top: CRKT Obake
Middle: CRKT Akari
Bottom: CRKT Achi

Top: CRKT Akari
Bottom: CRKT Achi

Burnley Kwaiken Flipper

Hotter ’N A Firecraker

Burnley handcrafts knives of all styles, but he is most comfortable — and most noted — for his tacticals. “I primarily make what I consider ‘contemporary tactical’ knives both fixed and folding,” the knifemaker lends. “I use modern materials with clean functional designs and tactical origins. That said, I have pretty broad tastes and over the years I’ve also made a lot of traditional models including kitchen pieces, straight razors, swords, hunting knives — you name it.”

If there is one theme at the forefront of Lucas’ work, it is his appreciation for clean Asian styling. “A knife is a tool first and foremost, but utility shouldn’t come at the cost of beauty. For me, Japanese design and craft is the epitome of this concept. The attention to detail is amazing and, as a rule, blends form and function in a way that is second to none.”

Every successful custom knife artisan has a breakthrough knife, and Lucas is no different. “While each model I make has its own following, the Kwaiken Flipper seems to be consistently popular across the board. If I had to hazard a guess as to why it has done so well, I would say it boils down to design simplicity.”

The demand for Burnley’s knives has reached such a point they’ve been very hard to get. “I stopped taking new orders in 2012, and I am estimating I will be finished with the current list in approximately three years KST (Knifemaker Standard Time),” says Lucas. “However, I do try to make a few pieces available throughout the year via my mailing list and social media, in addition to my annual show schedule.”

To alleviate the demand issue, Lucas turned to what many other popular custom knifemakers have done when faced with the same situation: produce “mid-tech” knives. What’s a mid-tech you ask? Think of it as a hybrid between a custom knife and one factory produced. The knifemaker sources out many of the parts which require grunt work, then finishes the knife by hand as they normally would. The flow of mid-techs loosens up the demand on the knifemaker and has the added benefit of a lower price tag.

Burnley’s first mid-tech is the Kihon flipper folder you see here. Kihon is a Japanese term meaning “basics” or “fundamentals.” These are offered in plain versions at a lower price point plus more upscale ones with fancier scales featuring machined designs and anodized colors. The Kihon, with its hints of Asian design influence, is outfitted with a Titanium frame, a sturdy frame-lock mechanism and premium CPM154 blade steel.

Burnley Kwaiken Fixed-Blade

Böker USA Kwaiken Flipper

Hot Factory Fare

If you want a Burnley on a budget, you’re in luck. Lucas has collaborated with Böker USA and CRKT (Columbia River Knife & Tool) on several projects with both fixed-blade and folder designs. “Three words best describe Lucas … attention to detail,” Böker USA CEO Dan Weidner states. “Addressing some of these details can be a challenge at times, moving from custom to production. Fortunately, we have a great team to interpret the details right on down the line from Lucas to the factory.”

The company has not one, but three Burnley Kwaiken Flippers in their line. The first release was done up in a green Micarta handle. It sold so well two more upscale versions were added: one in solid Titanium and another in Carbon Fiber.

CRKT has four products with Burnley designs — three fixed blades and one folder. “Lucas is an extremely talented designer who produces unique and solid designs,” CRKT Sales Manager Lindsey Phelps informs Handgunner. “In his designs with CRKT, such as the Obake, his ability to create a functional piece of art is very evident. We are honored to work with Lucas and look forward to future collaborations!” The three fixed blade models — the Obake, Achi, and Akari — are all Asian in design and feature cord-wrapped handles. The Squid is a very affordable small frame-lock folder offered in plain and black stonewash finishes. If you like runt knives these affordable minions are bound to please.

Burnley may have developed his loyal-to-a-fault following by making slick, well-made knives — but he gives all credit to his fans and customers. He even has a cult-like group of followers dubbed the Burnley Brawlers. “Over the last few years they’ve done a ton of fundraising, we do an annual marine toys for tots drive, they’ve helped each other through hardships, medical bills, pets. These are good guys, Brawlers with hearts.”

“I’m incredibly fortunate to have been blessed with great customers from the start,” Lucas stresses. “I want them to feel they are investing in something special when they buy one of my knives. Over the past few years, my collectors have built a really strong group surrounding Burnley Knives, adopting the credo ‘Work Hard, Do Good.’ At this point, it’s more of a community than anything else. I’ve always believed the best brands are the ones you become a part of, and it’s cool to see this in action.”

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