4 Emergency Hacks to Open a Can

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Editor’s note:  We always recommend everyone keep a spare can opener around, but should you find yourself without one, it is good to know a few other ways to open a can.

4 Emergency Hacks to Open a Can

Written by Luisa Brenton

Your face falls. The cold sweat breaks out. You look around at the deep wilderness that encircles your campfire and family. You shout, “Whaddaya mean nobody brought a can opener?” It can happen to everybody. That’s the problem with these kinds of tools. Like mobile phone signals, you’re so used to them always being around that you don’t miss them until they’re gone.

So what now? You’re stuck in the wilderness (or your apartment late at night, or your basement during world war three), you’ve got a bunch of cans, but you can’t use the regular way to pierce that thin metal shell. Well, you’ll be glad to know there are ways to open that can! Here are a few of the most effective (make sure you kill the germs before you use any of them).


It’s actually not at all hard to open a can with a spoon. Grab your spoon around the head, so that only a little bit sticks out below your fist. Grab your can with the other hand. Now press down the spoon and rub it along a small length of the edge, back and forth, over and over again. The metal will dent and eventually puncture.

Now you can use the spoon much as you use a normal can opener, by using the edge of the spoon to cut along the edge. When you’ve cut about nine-tenths of the way around, reverse the spoon and use the other end to lift the lid.

Be aware! The lid will be jagged and sharp! So use some kind of rag or cloth to grab it, if you must. Otherwise , chances are that whatever is in the can will have to be eaten with the salty flavor of blood.

How to Open a Can with Just a Spoon

Concrete block

Okay, you’re probably not going to find these in the wilderness but then a smooth flat rock will also work. So how do you open your can using a concrete block? Well, obviously you could scream and bash it several times. That will eventually open it. The only problem is you won’t have much control over when and in what direction it will open. That means it might just spray out over the ground like you are some overeager teenage boy.
So instead, reverse the can and rub the lid back and forth over the concrete block. The goal here is to wear down the out edge, where the lid of the can and the can itself are joined together. One this is worn down enough (it will start to fray and look open), you can squeeze the sides and the lid will pop up. (Yes, reverse the can and hold it facing upwards when you do this part! Otherwise, the precious content will still end up on the floor).

tried to open a can with a stone

A pocket knife

Now obviously if you have a pocket knife you can open a can by puncturing a hole in the lid and then cutting along the edge. That’s pretty obvious and I’m not really going to explain what you need to do. Instead, I’m going to put in a warning. A lot of pocket knives don’t have any kind of mechanism to stop it from shutting again. That means that if you press incorrectly the blade, instead of puncturing the lid, will fold closed.

The problem is, as your fingers are going to be wrapped around the hilt, they’re going to be in the way and the sharp edge of the knife is going to cut right into them if you’re not careful. I know. I’ve done it.  Man, was there a lot of blood!

So if you’re trying to use a pocket knife or a Swiss army knife, don’t press straight down. Instead, hold it at a slight angle so that the pressure of you trying to open the can can’t shut the knife in your hand. Then just do the same thing as with the spoon.

With your bare hands

Okay, this is probably the hardest of the lot and will require some strong fingers to boot. Nonetheless, if you’ve got absolutely nothing except for your bare hands, you can still open a can.  Here’s how:

Hold the can in front of you with the lid facing you. Imagine an equilateral triangle (a triangle with the same length edges) across the lid, with the points along the lid. Using the tip of your fingers push in the sides of the can along two of those edges.

Now, take the can with one hand on the lid and the other on the back and push the can’s edge towards each other along one of the dents you’ve created. Then go to the other dent and push that one down. Rinse and repeat. Each time you do this, the part of the can between the two dents will bend and twist, leading to metal fatigue. Eventually, a hole will open there.

Once you’ve got that, put the can into a metal bar and push on the lid so that the content will be pushed out through the hole. Hey presto, you’ve got the content of the can!

Yeah, it’s messy, it’s slow and you probably won’t get the whole content. Nonetheless, it works in an emergency!

So there you go

Four ways that you can open a can and impress your family with your mad survival skills. They’ll think you’re the real deal and be well impressed. Heck, you might even conveniently ‘forget’ the can opener just to showcase how useful you’ll be in a zombie apocalypse!

Of course, if that’s your goal, do make sure that you actually practice these things in private so that you don’t look like a complete knob if it goes wrong while everybody is watching.

Luisa Brenton is a hiking fan and also a writer in a variety of venues – academic, business, and lifestyle content. She is a frequent contributor to www.topwritersreview.com, a review website that evaluates custom online writing services.


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  1. I have used a straight blade screwdriver to open cans before. Not the fast or the best way. Just set the blade against the top and tap through move and repeat over and over. You can use this way with any thing you can drive through the lid, like a large nail or screw. If you use a large cooking knife use the heel of the blade not the point. Just tap it through. If you are using a knife a fixed blade works a hell a lot better than a folding knife. This is why you want to keep some P38 or P51 can openers in your gear bags. They are very slow but you will be able to open the can

    1. Hi oldguy, I agree, those P38 or P51 can openers are slow for opening but they eventually get the job done. Good tip on using a straight blade screwdriver. Thanks for the comment!

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