Behold the Manual Can Opener

I actually think it’s quite comical that I’m writing about this particular topic. But hey, every aspect of self-reliance should be addressed at least once on here, right? So what the heck.  Though the humor of this scenario comes from the fact that during the course of the  last two radio shows I’ve shared some "controversial" information (particularly on Wednesday’s show about The Medical Lies).  While I simply set a few misnomers straight on this morning’s show, I find it delightfully humorous that I got so many e-mails after the show regarding what I mentioned briefly about can openers.  You would have thought I exposed the fact that the dish had run away with the spoon and that the can opener orchestrated it all. *grin*

So, the tantalizing statement I made was that I refuse to allow an electric can opener in my home.  Seriously, I think that they are just a hilarious invention that’s mostly unnecessary. I can understand someone with arthritic hands needing one, or some other similar reason, but when I go over to my girlfriend’s house for dinner, I can use the hand can-opener and have a can open just as fast as she does using the electric. Here’s the really funny thing. I was teaching a cooking class to a bunch of young, teenage girls a few months back, and a couple of them literally did not know what the manual can opener was that I had brought with me.  Now that’s just sad (and sadly humorous too, if you ask me). Can you just imagine the mortification of their mother if she knew that they didn’t even know what a manual can opener was?—at least I hope there would be some discomfort there. Perhaps when she finally told her daughters about the Easter Bunny not existing, she accidentally said “manual can opener.” Yeah. I could see that. Those two phrases sound an awful lot alike.

I have a friend in Ohio who teaches “Home Economics” (yes, they do still teach that in some areas of the U.S.—thank goodness). She was telling me that she never brings electric can openers into her room and a handful of the students went and actually complained about that fact to the principal—claiming some form of abuse that my friend had the audacity to require them to use a manual can opener instead of an electric one. *sigh*  The icing on the cake was when I was watching a competition show on a cable cooking channel (I believe it was The Food Network).  One of the chefs was unable to get the electric can opener to work for him. The network had to “bleep” his tirade directed at the can opener as he struggled to work with “this *bleep* American toy that had no business in the kitchen.”

OK. So cutting to the chase here, please, please, please be sure that you have at least three manual can openers on hand. (Remember, “3 is 2; 2 is 1; and 1 is none”.)  Your state of self-reliance just isn’t complete without them. *grin* Make sure that you and everyone in your family is familiar with how to use it. Also, I personally would not skimp on this particular purchase. Don’t get the all metal ones. After opening 6 cans at a time, this can be quite tiring and even cause a medical emergency. (Remember that in times of “survival” even something as simply as a blister can turn into medical emergency).  Remember that it’s imperative that you think about your tools from a conservation of physical energy viewpoint.  Personally, I love my OXO can opener. It’s easy on the hands and also gives me the “safe edge” on the metal lid.  I also am partial to my Pampered Chef can opener. To be honest, I can’t pinpoint exactly why on that one. It’s nice and sturdy; heavy; but it seems to take little to no effort to use as well.  There’s also a favored brand known as “Swing-A-Way” that several of my prepper friends mention. In a pinch, the military type “P-38” can openers will do, but only if you practice with them ahead of time. Otherwise you may simply be teaching your children how to talk like a sailor, rather than open a can like one. They easily go right on your keychain. Be sure you select one with a sturdy metal and not some “made in China” dollar store knock-off.

So, what do you do if you find yourself without a can opener?  Throwing that can against the rocks over and over isn’t such a good idea when it contains life-saving beef stew, right? Well, my suggestion is to rub the top of the can in small, strong circular motions on pavement (kind of like sanding). You’ll quickly wear down the lid this way. If it contains a liquid substance, then you’ll have to do things the other way—you’ll have to rub a rough rock or other like item over the top of the lid instead. It’s tedious and doesn’t work nearly as fast, but it will give you an open can without wasting key contents.

By the way, I wouldn’t be too quick to throw away your cans if you find yourself in a survival mode. They can be used as “pans” to cook foods inn—soups or bread—or as an “early warning device” when tethered around the perimeter of your home. They can also serve as a alcohol stove (though usually only one or two uses) if you’ve got some “Heet” or denatured alcohol. They can also be used to safely hold candles, draw water or fine powder items. And if you have the foresight to get some of those lids which fit any regular sized can, they could come in handy when you want to share some of your food but your Tupperware is a bit to valuable to just send off with someone.  (In fact, I specifically have quite of a bit of that “Press and Seal” product specifically for that occasion.) What good is having a little excess you can share with others if you have no containers in which to put the shared items?  If you punch small holes around the bottom base of the can, you’ll also have a good container for planting herbs and other small plants. Of course you can do the same with the larger #10 cans as well. Then again, you can use them as target practice like my husband does. (I swear he goes through the trash all the time just to make sure I’m not throwing out perfectly good “targets”. ) I also like to use the cans for items that I simply don’t want to put in anything else such as paint, or paintbrush cleaning agent, etc. For the OCD inclined, they are a great way to keep nuts, bolts, and other items organized out in the garage. (Yes, Honey. Those things belong out in the garage, not in the linen closet.)

OK. So I don’t need to go on and on regarding the many uses of cans; but the point is, if you have to mangle every can of food you’ve got in order to get it open, you’re wasting a perfectly good asset. So, forget the electronic can opener. It won’t always be there for you. Put your trust in a good manual can opener instead.


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I was highly embarrassed when my ds27 said he didn't know what 'churchkey' in the drawer was for. There has been one in the drawer forever but he never thought to ask.(rolling eyes) He has issues because he is left handed..any recommendations?

Actually you can go on Amazon and find a "left handed can opener" believe it or not. That should help.

Really? A left-handed can opener?? I am left handed and have always struggled with those dang manual can openers! I also do not have an electric...they always got so gunked up and nasty. Going to Amazon! Thanks!!!

Check out the Army's P38 can

Check out the Army's P38 can opener (not aircraft). It's about the same size a quarter and will open most standard cans. If you're a preper and space is an issue you can't go without it. The P51 can opener is the big brother to the P38 and will open all other cans. And as always, if held the correct way can be used "in a pinch" as a defensive tool. I try to have tools with a double purpose or are reusable. Chickens, give eggs & can be eaten, cross bow - reusable projectile. Love my P38 :)

Check out the Army's P38 can

Check out the Army's P38 can opener (not aircraft). It's about the same size a quarter and will open most standard cans. If you're a preper and space is an issue you can't go without it. The P51 can opener is the big brother to the P38 and will open all other cans. And as always, if held the correct way can be used "in a pinch" as a defensive tool. I try to have tools with a double purpose or are reusable. Chickens, give eggs & can be eaten, cross bow - reusable projectile. Love my P38 :)

I'm cracking up on this one because I've never used an electric can opener (and not sure I'd know how). I have wonderful, sturdy Kitchenaid can opener that does the job just fine. Will have to pick a few extra up!
Kim :)

I would not have an electric can opener in the house again either. I had one once many years ago and I remember how difficult it was and how it created metal shavings from the lid. What a pain and a total waste of electricity!

I got a beautiful red and chrome Kitchaid can opener at a garage sale for a dollar! Score!!! I was so thrilled, you are right, the cheapo ones are just a waste of time and effort!!

Karen, those Kitchenaid can openers rock! I got one at a Target in another town a couple months ago and plan to get more of these at the next Target I come to. My wife had found one of the Kitchenaid models a while back and we both agreed that while these are a little more expensive, they are well worth the $10 each we've bought them for.

I bought an OXO opener and do not like it. When it works it's great but I can only get it to work about a third of the time. It's not my opener of choice. I've got a regular manual opener with bright red handles and I still manage to 'not see it' in the drawers. I'd better get a couple more.

Being of Polynesian descent I learnt as a youngster how to open cans with sharp knives. Merely 'hammer' the sharp end of the knife into the side of the lid on the top of the can (using the side of your fist, or palm of your hand), reverse the blade so the sharp side is facing up, and then lever the knife up and down around the edge while the other hand holds the can still and firm. Takes practice but definitely works. Have had to resort to doing this a few times when even a manual can opener fails at times (like opening #10 cans of corned beef!).

Opening a can with a knife, in my opinion, should be an absolute LAST resort as it's just begging for a medical emergency--the last thing you need in a crisis. Though some are competent doing such, I'm a bit concerned about others observing such a method and assuming that they can do the same. Like you said it "takes practice." Just my two cents.

I open cans with knives all the time and I have never gotten hurt. It's a whole lot faster than rubbing it with a rock. Anyway, wouldn't the principle of self-reliance support the idea of not being dependent on a can opener to allow access to your food? ...Just my two cents ;)

Really? Being self-reliant is eliminated when one uses a can opener instead of a knife? I'm definitely not following the logic there.

So let's look at it this way, if you use a knife instead of a can opener are you likely to EVER have a cutting accident? Yes. If you use a can opener instead of a knife, are you likely to ever have a cutting accident? No. If you use a knife all the time, competent or not, are you ever likely to mistakenly demonstrate to a young child that knives are the way to do it and thus risk a cutting accident when they do as they see? Yes. The other way around? No. I stand by my previous response. I don't take unnecessary risks usually-while not perfect all the time in assessing risk, I still try to avoid them when necessary.

I'm with you on the non-skimping for the can opener. You need reliablity and ease and several. Open a number ten can or two and you will be wishing you had a good can opener. At 30 I finally figured out the P-38 can opener when my son wanted to try the one he got for a present. As far as can openers go, I don't know how to use an electric, but I have considered in investing in a large commercial clamp on the counter hand crank, any recommendations on this. I know the best store can openers ware out and I find myself with a lot of #10 cans lately.

May dad made an L-shaped support for their Swing-a-Way can opener. The base was about 8" deep, and the upright portion that had the can opener mounted on it was about 10" high. He finished it in the same Formica as the kitchen counters so it "blended" in with the decor. That was back in the early 60's and was still in use in 2003 when mom passed. He did the same thing with the manual ice crusher.

Long before the thought of "prepping" ever occurred to me, I recognized that my electric can opener was not only messy and hard to operate, it was a source of food contamination as a result of any leftover food on the cutting wheel from the previous cans and not cleaned properly.

So, out the door it went and I bought a Swingaway brand, which was the sturdiest looking one at the time, and it has spoken well for itself lo these past 25 years. It has since been joined by two others (same brand) as "just in case" items.

And I never have to worry about food contamination from leftover contents, because the Swingaway goes beautifully in the dishwasher.

We actually got an electric can opener for our wedding seven years ago, and there's one at our church hall as well. Before then I'd never seen them before - I thought manual was the only option! We ended up donating our electric one to Goodwill a couple years into our marriage, and I've been known to walk around church with a can asking women where I could find a can opener (meaning manual) just to be reminded there's an electric on the counter.

I use the Pampered Chef can opener in the kitchen and have a couple old style metal ones stored away.
I also save a variety of cans, especially the #10's. I have a box in the basement with jars, all different sizes, in case I want to share something.
I wouldn't want to part with any canning jars!
Right now, we bought a gallon jar of pickles, its too heavy to lift from the bottom shelf in frig. the only place it would fit. so I am going to get a pickle jar from basement, fill it from the large jar, add some of the liqued and be able to lift the jar. I would rather refill this jar once a week then struggle with the larger jar daily. My husband eats pickles every day.

I've never owned an electric can opener and never will. Sourcing fresh, local organic food has lessened my need for even a manual can opener, but I own 2 for the times I do.

I've never had an electric can opener. Have several good manual ones though. Also have several GI P38? (John Wayne)on different key chains, and on pack zippers. Don't leave home without one.

I have the Pampered Chef one and I love it. Worth the money for something I use every singe day IMO, I've had it for years. My kids can use it, too (no electric can openers here!)
I also have an OXO one but prefer the Pampered Chef, especially because the blade never comes in contact with the food making it last longer and reducing risk of contamination. I've noticed the Swing-A-Way are not as durable and after a couple of years they get very hard to turn.s

My husband and I are both left-handed and use a regular can opener...not one made specifically for Lefties. Just put it on the right side of the can and crank away

Oh Brother , I suppose you expect us to grind our own wheat too :):) lol

If young people do not know what a manual can opener is then they are going to be &%$$%^@# out of luck when the electrical grid goes down. Those living next to nuclear reactors will also be $%%&*@ out of luck when the electrical grid goes down.

Had a good laugh over this post! Our electric wedding gift was given to Goodwill the very first week. Thought it was the silliest appliance to ever grace a counter.

I actually hate electric can openers. They never seem to work right for me. My daughter has one and when I am there and we are cooking together I always get her to open cans. I have 3 can openers at home and cant do without them. My husband always has asked me why we dont have and electric can opener and I have always said to him...not worry hun I will open the cans for ya...

Kellene, Thank You for this one! We have ONLY manuals in our house, and I have (and know how to use!) a P38 on my pocket knife. I also bought 10 P51s (larger) recently for gifts and sharing.
When I was growing up, we had a Swingaway at camp that we used exclusively. It never failed in all the 40+ years that I know we had it.
When I give my little Blackout Readiness presentations, I pull my essential items out of the ice chest I store them in. I point out the need for a manual can opener and stove-top coffepot, then I pull out the CORDED phone -- remember those? They still work, even when the power's down and cordless ones DON'T.

Watch out for the Swing-Aways. The good ones are great, but there are some cheap junkers masquerading as the same, and they don't last a month.

I would not part with my corded phone. Was able to use it during a couple of winter blackouts in Reno. Seems like most cans I buy now (not the #10s, of course) have a pull top opening, but I too have had a couple of good manual openers in my larder for years. Put them in the same class as those little things that can save the day when you need them, like shoe laces & waxed dental floss - my thread of choice. Think you could hang off a cliff with that stuff and it wouldn't break!

Get a number of Coghlans brand P-38 style can openers. They come two in a pack and cost about $2.50 +/-. These are made in Canada and are about three times the size of the US mil type P-38. Thirty seconds with one of these and you are an expert. After a week you can enter into any can opening competition and have a good chance of placing win, place or show!

I have had one of these openers fail after close to 10 years of service. So three is two...

I keep one of those military WW11 type can openers on my key chain at all times! They are a bit difficult to use, but can really come in handy in a pinch! You really ought to consider having one on your key chain if you don't already. Most of the Army Navy stores carry them!

I will admit to never having seen an electric can opener. Never had one growing up and don't have one in my house now. Not sure I understand the reason for having an electric one or how the might work... We have about six of them, but I will say that trying to find church keys is getting hard.

We got an electric opener for a gift. My dad said if you won't use it return it for something else. My step-mother was tiffed when we returned it. They are a Royal Pain in my opinion..... We do have at least 3 manualones, along with a few church keys!

RE using the cans for cooking or sharing food
I have actually put together a "set" of cans to give out or use if the need arises. They nest inside each other starting with #10 on down to a vienna sausage size. There's also a buddy burner (tuna can filled with corrugated cardboard and parafin) to use as fuel and matches. But you could include a bottle of 91% alcohol or HEET to make an alcohol burner.

This post was a great break from some of the bad stuff.....never would have an electric can opener....I do have one that opens the tops ( with no sharp edges....( great to put surprise presents in) they do not last to long.....funny thing I just opened a can tonight with my regular can opener and thought to need another backup too funny PS keep some p38's in my car stash. Thint that is what they are called old GI opener.

We were given 2 identical can openers from two people as wedding gifts 23 years ago. At the time I thought it was a strange wedding present, but useful, had a bit of a laugh. But now I think of all the gifts we were given and the thing we have used the most and still own, that hasn't worn out or been given away or relegated to a back cupboard somewhere is... the can opener. Unfotunately a few years ago one of them disappeared so I will need to get another spare. I also have a bunch of military can openers I acquired recently. My eldest son and I had fun figuring out how to use them when he was sent to work with a tuna tin for lunch that didnt' have the usual ring pull. He popped one onto his keychain.
speaking of ring pull cans, the just don't last as long as regular cans. we have had a few that have failed well within the useby date, when they were stored on their side or turned over. My sis also had a tin splatter all over the room when she first cracked the ring pull TWICE. So for long term storage stick with regular cans if possible.

The military style p38 otherwise known as the John Wayne can opener always works. It lasts for years and years. It is small enough to carry in your wallet. It folds flat. Buy extra and give it to friends and family.

Make sure you test your can opener on both regular cans, and #10 cans. a few months ago, I tried to use the can opener I've had for several years on a #10 can for the first time. It didn't work. It was very frustrating trying to open it. I bought another one at the store, and that one didn't work either. Finally I got one from Emergency Essentials with the promise that if it didn't open a #10 can I could return it.
Just a word of warning.

Just a note- my Pampered Chef can opener opens #10 cans. It also does that smooth edge thing so you can use the cans for other things (we've made planters and charcoal starters a la Alton Brown out of #10 cans, for example.)

Funny enough, when we were in the States camping a couple of years ago, I tried to open a US can with my Canadian manual can opener, much to my surprise it wouldn't open it. So I went out and bought a US one. I used an electric can opener when I was growing up, but when I moved out I got the manual kind. Could never see the use of the electric ones and they take up much valuable space on the counter. I own a variety of them but not a P38, will have to look into that option. Has anyone seen the movie The Piano Player, remember the scene where he finds the can of food but no can opener, he is starving of course and that food is so close but so far away. Heart breaking for that to happen.

I love this blog but especially this one in particular . I have not had an electric can opener in my house for the last 30 years . I hate, hate, hate , hate electric can openers they are a lesson in frustration for me . I have had several manual can openers, but the one i like the best is the one that cuts the cans lids off and leaves a smooth edge on the can. It has finally died so I am going to get another one, but I have several can openers the old one from my husbands family farm and a stainless steel can opener but as I stated I really like the one that cuts the lids off leaving the can edge smooth.
I think it is too funny that those students complained about a manual can opener but then as a systemic problem that really is not so funny . What are some people going to do if everything goes by the wayside? Well my children and grandchildren know a lot about doing things for yourself and not depending on all the modern conveniences though we have some we just do not depend on so many. Anyway really enjoyed this blog thanks...

My nephew lived in the Philippines for two years, and he learned to open metal cans with a spoon -- yes, a regular metal spoon from the untensil drawer! I have personally seen him do this more than once. He simple inverts the bowl of the spoon on the can where he wants to open it, rubs back and forth to cause friction, the can weakens, gives way, and he uses the edge of the spoon to continue compromising the metal, prying it open. Primitive, but I'll have to learn how to do it, I think!

Hi Kellene, I really like your comment, "3 is 2, 2 is 1 and 1 is none"! Hope you don't mind that I quoted you on my latest blog post. I really enjoy your information and I'm sure I'll be referring to it more!

I grew up using a manual can opener. Then when I moved to the US started using an electric one. Now we're back home in the Caribbean for over 3yrs and the manual is all we've been using. I missed the electric for the first couple of months then got used to the manual again. Given a choice I would not go back to the electric - saving money on electricity and being equipped for emergency situations is more important.

I'd like to thank you for the efforts you have put in writing this site. I am hoping to see the same high-grade blog posts by you later on as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has encouraged me to get my own site now ;)

I used to own an electric can

I used to own an electric can opener but switched to a manual one a few months ago. I'm currently using a Keetzen can opener that I bought from Amazon. I like my can opener because they're easier to clean and cost a LOT less than fancy electric ones! Tip: buy one with a manufacture warranty. Mine has a 3 year guarantee :D

I had an electric can opener

I had an electric can opener in my first apartment, it was a foolish expense, of rare use and all day plugged into electricity. Now I can't stand them: I don't want my neighbors knowing the sound of when I'm eating. Home canning seems better than purchased food. Think about metal recycling in past wartime, how metal cans are more scarce or expensive than glass, in a pushy society they'd confiscate metal or make it illegal to hoard. Old pottery crocks with seals, earth storage, and salt preservation, might be something to study.


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