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While most canned goods have an easy-open tab, you may still find yourself in a situation where the tab has broken off or the can lacks an easy-open tab. Worse, what if you don’t have a can opener? Going hungry is not an option, so what do you do?

You use any of these 8 different ways of opening the cans without any “real” can opener of any sort.

Method 1. Use a Survival or Pocket Knife

Just about any reasonably-sized knife, whether it’s the blade of a Swiss army knife, kitchen knife or survival knife will do. To open a can with a knife, follow these steps:

Step 1.

Position the can upright and on a flat sturdy level surface.

Step 2.

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Grasp the knife in a reverse-grip. Keep the knife vertical and place the tip of the blade against the inner edge of the can’s lid.

Make sure that the knife you use has a sharp tip and edge. A dull blade can fail to pierce the metal, slip off and injure your hands. (Wikihow.com/Open-a-Can-Without-a-Can-Opener).

Step 3.

With your free hand, forcefully but carefully “pound” the pommel of the knife, palm facing down. If you think you can’t pound the knife with enough force, you can use a brick or a rock to hammer the knife in, being careful not to hit your hand or damage the knife.

Step 3. With your free hand, forcefully but carefully “pound” the pommel of the knife, palm facing down. If you think you can’t pound the knife with enough force, you can use a brick or a rock to hammer the knife in, being careful not to hit your hand or damage the knife.

Step 3.

With your free hand, forcefully but carefully “pound” the pommel of the knife, palm facing down. If you think you can’t pound the knife with enough force, you can use a brick or a rock to hammer the knife in, being careful not to hit your hand or damage the knife.

Step 4.

Reposition the knife at the leading edge of the puncture you made and repeat steps 3 and 4 until the edge of the lid has been completely “encircled” with punctures.

Encircle the edges of the entire lid with holes. The lid should now be easy to pry
(Wikihow.com/Open-a-Can-Without-a-Can-Opener).

 

Step 5.

Carefully pry the now-loose lid off the can. Don’t use your fingers to do this, the jagged edges of the can are extremely sharp. If you prefer, you can use a smaller knife to pry off the lid.

You can pry the lid off the can with your knife, but NEVER use your hands.
The jagged edges of a can are extremely sharp and shouldn’t be taken lightly
(Wikihow.com/Open-a-Can-Without-a-Can-Opener).

Method 2. Using a Spoon

Yes, it’s possible to open a can with a spoon. Just make sure the spoon is metal, not wood or plastic, and is of robust construction. Use an actual spoon, and not a metal “spork”; the small tines may only bend or break off without the lid being pierced.

To use a spoon to open a can, do the following:

 Step 1.

Place the can on a flat, level sturdy surface.

Step 2.

As with the knife in method 1, grasp the spoon firmly and position the tip of the spoon on the edge of the lid. Make sure the “bowl” of the spoon is facing towards the center of the can.

Hold a metal spoon as you would a knife, but with the “bowl” of the spoon facing inwards
(Wikihow.com/Open-a-Can-Without-a-Can-Opener).

Step 3.

Keep the tip of the spoon on one spot of the lid, then, bearing down on the lid, “rock” the spoon in a back-and-forth “sawing” motion. This continual motion should wear down and eventually penetrate the lid.

Exert a concentrated, persistent force in a back-and-forth motion on a single area of the can’s lid with a metal spoon. The pressure on the spot will eventually pierce the lid
(Wikihow.com/Open-a-Can-Without-a-Can-Opener).

Step 4.

Once the lid has been pierced, continue the motion until the entire lid has been “sawn” off.

Continuing the “sawing” motion and encircling the lid with the spoon will cause it to come off the can
(Wikihow.com/Open-a-Can-Without-a-Can-Opener).

 

Step 5.

Carefully pry open the lid by digging the spoon under it. Slowly push the lid upwards with the spoon to expose the contents of the can. Remember that the edges of the pried lid will still be very sharp. To remove the lid completely, use your hands but only if you’re wearing gloves or use a towel, cloth, rag or your shirt sleeve as protection.

Pry off the lid with the spoon to expose the contents. Never use your bare hands to handle the lid, unless you want a nasty cut
(Wikihow.com/Open-a-Can-Without-a-Can-Opener).

Method 3. Use a Chef’s Knife

If you have a large chef’s knife, DON’T use it in the way you would the other smaller knives. Chef’s knives may be very sharp, but they’re too thin and flexible to use as prescribed by Method 1. Using it in this way will cause the blade to bend or even break, so there’s a huge risk of injuring yourself apart from failing to open the can.

When using a Chef’s knife, use the “heel” of the blade instead. Follow these steps to open a can safely with this kind of knife:

Step 1.

Place the can on a level, stable sturdy surface. Don’t try this method by placing the can between your legs, on your lap or while holding the can; the blade could slip and you risk seriously injuring yourself.

Step 2.

Grasp the Chef’s knife firmly where the handle and the blade meet, with the blade facing away from you. Rest your thumb on the side of the blade to avoid obstructing the “heel” of the blade and risk getting your thumb cut. Never use this method with any other knife; the weight of the blade is vital to the success and safety of performing this method.

The “heel” of the Chef’s knife is key to this method’s effectiveness and safety. Note how the Chef’s knife is held for this purpose (Wikihow.com/Open-a-Can-Without-a-Can-Opener).

 

 

Step 3.

Keeping the can on a level surface, position the heel of the Chef’s knife on the edge of the can’s lid. Carefully but forcefully press down on the can’s lid to make a hole.

Pierce a spot on the edge of the can’s lid with the heel of the knife
(Wikihow.com/Open-a-Can-Without-a-Can-Opener).

Step 4.

Repeat the process all around the circumference of the lid. The lid should now be loose and easy to pry off. After making several punctures into the lid, you may be tempted to reverse the blade and cut into the rest of the unopened areas of the lid. Don’t. Stick to using the heel of the blade, as you could break off the tip of the Chef’s knife and even injure yourself.

Continuing the process of piercing the lid with the heel of the Chef’s knife will make it easy to pry right off (Wikihow.com/Open-a-Can-Without-a-Can-Opener).

Step 5.

After you’ve punctured most of the can’s lid, proceed to prying it off. Place the blade under the lid, then pull upwards to remove the lid safely and expose the contents.

Again, never handle the lid or detach it from the can with your bare hands. Wear gloves or protect your hand with a towel, cloth, rag or your shirt sleeve.

Pry the lid loose and off the can with the blade of the Chef’s knife. Never use your bare hands or fingers. (Wikihow.com/Open-a-Can-Without-a-Can-Opener).

Method 4. Using Concrete Pavement, Rough Rock or Concrete Blocks

If you don’t have any sort of knife or spoon within reach, you can hit the pavement and find another way. Or more accurately, rub the can right on the pavement. A hollow cement block will also work well for this method. The key is to have a really abrasive surface; a smooth tile or bit of pavement won’t work. You’ll need friction to work its magic on the can’s lid. For this method, follow these steps:

Step 1.

Find a large, flat, coarse surface like concrete pavement, the wide face of a concrete block or even a large flat rock with a rough surface.

Step 2.

Place the can upside-down on the pavement, rock or hollow concrete block. This will enable you to break the seal.

Place the can on a rough surface like pavement, a flat rock or concrete block.
(Wikihow.com/Open-a-Can-Without-a-Can-Opener).

Step 3.

With a back-and-forth “scrubbing” motion, rub the rock with the can while applying some even pressure. Keep rubbing the can over the rough surface until moisture from the can appears on the rock; turn the can over to check if any moisture has built up on it. Stop rubbing the can on the rough surface once you observe moisture formation. If you continue to rub the can after moisture has formed, you risk rubbing through the lid, spilling the can’s contents and wasting it.

After turning the can upside-down, vigorously rub the can over the rough surface of pavement, rock or concrete block. Stop after a few times of rubbing the can and check for moisture; stop once you see moisture or you risk rubbing the lid right off and wasting the can’s contents (Wikihow.com/Open-a-Can-Without-a-Can-Opener).

Step 4.

The can’s lid should be thin enough to pierce and pry off. You can use a pocket knife, a small knife, a spoon, butter knife or similar tool. Sometimes, the lid will even become so thin that you can simply squeeze either side of the can with both hands, and the entire lid will pop right out cleanly. You can also use a small rock to bash in the lid but do this only as a last resort; the result could be messy and you could have bits of rock and dirt contaminate the food.

After rubbing the can’s lid on a rough surface a few times, the edge of the lid will be thin enough to pry with a small knife. You can even use a butter knife or spoon to pry it off; just don’t use your bare hands (Wikihow.com/Open-a-Can-Without-a-Can-Opener).

Method 5. Use an Axe / Tomahawk

Native Americans may not have done this with their tomahawks, but if you have a survival tomahawk or axe available, you can use them to open canned food.

Follow these steps:

Step 1.

Hold the can on its side upon a flat, stable surface.

Step 2.

While grasping the axe or tomahawk by its haft right under the base of the blade, carefully cut into the can just under the lid.

Step 3.

With a slow but steady “raking” movement, continue to slice through the can. You can stop about 75 percent of the way into the circumference of the can, then use the axe or ‘hawk to pry the lid upwards. You can see how this can be done in the first few seconds, and observe the other methods in the rest of the video:

Method 6. Tin Snips

If you don’t have any of the other tools handy but happen to have tin snips, they can be used to open a can. Using tin snips is in fact, one of the easiest and “cleanest” methods as it doesn’t have any risk of spilling the can’s contents and the lid is less likely to have jagged edges. To open a can with tin snips, follow these steps:

Step 1.

Grip the tin snips firmly and in the usual way, and place the can on a sturdy flat surface. To avoid accidental injury, don’t use this method while holding the can in your other hand, on your lap or between your legs.

Step 2.

See that “lip” that runs around the entire top of the can? Cut into that at an angle with the tin snips.

Step 3.

Continue to cut into the lip, slowly rotating the can as you cut.

Step 4.

Once you’ve cut out about 75 percent of the lip, carefully pry the lid off.

Method 7. Pliers

Flat-nosed, not long-nosed pliers work best with this method. To open a can with pliers, perform these steps:

Step 1.

Place the can on an even, flat sturdy surface. Don’t hold it in your “free” hand or place it on your lap or between your legs.

Step 2.

While grasping the pliers in one hand, use it to “attack” a portion of the can’s lip; crimping and crushing it carefully but vigorously.

Step 3.

Continue to crimp and crush all of the can’s lip; doing so will weaken the lid’s hold on the can. Once you’ve crimped all around the lid, carefully pry it off.

Method 8. Use Your Bare Hands

This is the messiest and possibly the riskiest method of opening a can. Note that this is best used on larger cans that have grooves or “ribs” around their circumference. Do this only as an absolute last resort. Follow these steps:

Step 1.

Tear off any labels on the can and find the grooves.

Whichever can you’re about to open with your bare hands, remove any labels to access the grooves (Wikihow.com/Open-a-Can).

Step 2.

Grip the can with one hand on each end, then push your fingers into the grooves near the middle of the side facing up. If your hands aren’t strong or big enough to do this, lay the can on the ground and push against the grooves with the “heel” of your hand.

Considerable hand size and grip strength will be needed to push into a can’s grooves (Wikihow.com/Open-a-Can).

Step 3.

Once you’ve made a dent on one side, rotate the can 180 degrees and push your fingers into the grooves again.

After making a dent on one side, work on the other side of the can
(Wikihow.com/Open-a-Can).

Step 4.

Make the dents on either side of the can even deeper. To do this, hold the can horizontally with the heels of either hand placed on each of the flat lids on the top and bottom. Place the “heels” of your hands such that they’re at the tops of the now-flatter areas and closer to the outer rims and not the center of the can. Squeeze the two ends by pushing in with your hands. Repeat this on the other side.

After you’ve made dents with your fingers, make the dents go even deeper by squeezing the can from either side as shown (Wikihow.com/Open-a-Can).

Step 5.

Continue squeezing both sides, applying an equal number of squeezes to deepen the dents on both sides uniformly. Interlock your fingers as you squeeze to make it easier. Keep doing this until the can develops an “hourglass” shape.

Keep squeezing both sides of the can until it becomes shaped like an hourglass
(Wikihow.com/Open-a-Can).

Step 6.

When the body can’t be dented any further, grip each end of the can firmly and proceed to slowly pull the can apart. You can bend the can towards you to “open” it up from the center. Carefully spoon out the contents into a separate container and sift out any metal fragments that may have mixed with the food.

Final notes

Opening canned food without a can opener is nothing new, as the interesting history about canned food is that its all-important “partner”, the can opener, wasn’t even invented until 50 years after someone invented the humble tin cylinder as a way to preserve and store food.

Should you ever find yourself with unopened canned goods but no convenient opener, get creative. It may be inconvenient, unconventional, perhaps messy and something you’re not accustomed to, but it’s plain to see there are other ways our ancestors have used to open cans.

If these methods inspired you to use unconventional ways of opening canned food, consider also carrying these multi-tool options in case you ever need to open a can without a “proper” can opener around.

As always, use the most practical and safe way to open any cans and use the “bare hands” method as a last resort, and always protect your hands and fingers before handling the jagged edges.