how to open a can without a can opener

Survival Hack: How to Open a Can Without a Can Opener

You’ve planned the perfect camping trip. You stocked up on your favourite canned goods to cook on the fire and enjoy under the stars. But disaster has struck. Your can opener is broken or you just forgot to pack it. What’s more, not all cans have an easy-open ring pull! 

But you don’t need to pack up and head for home just yet. With care, it’s possible to open your tins with some everyday items, a rough surface or even your bare hands. 

Stick with us, and we will take you through how to open a can without a can opener.

10 Ways You Can Open a Can if You’re Stuck Without a Can Opener

If you don’t have a can opener, you can try any of these ways to get to your food.

Remember to be careful and protect yourself at all times while you’re opening the can. Many of the below methods to open cans use sharp objects or leave a dangerously sharp edge on the tin, so it’s a good idea to wear gloves. You should also carefully check the food to ensure that there aren’t any metal shavings or other debris before consuming it.

Method 1: Pocket Knife

Most campers will have a Swiss army knife with them, but you can use just about any smaller knife for this method, including a small kitchen knife so long as it has a point and a rigid blade. Ensure that the knife is clean before you start so you don’t contaminate the food.

Be aware of sharp edges as you open a can without a can opener.

  • Put the can on a solid, level surface.
  • Hold the knife vertically with the blade away from you and the tip pointing downward against the inner edge of the can’s lid.
  • Firmly strike the end of the knife (called the butt or pommel) with the heel of your hand until the tip and blade puncture the lid. You can use a rock or other tool if you can’t strike the knife hard enough with your hand.
  • Remove the blade from the can and reposition the tip to make another hole next to the first.
  • Repeat until you’ve surrounded the lid with holes if you need to remove it completely
  • If the food is liquid or small, then making holes around half the lid is probably enough as you’ll be able to pour the food out.
  • Carefully use your pocket knife to pry the lid open by cutting through the remaining metal with the blade.

Method 2: Chef’s Knife

The blade on a chef’s knife is too long and flexible to use with the first method of opening a can without a can opener. However, with care, they can still get the job done.

  • Put the can on a sturdy and level surface.
  • Hold the chef’s knife handle in one hand with a firm grip and keep your thumb to the side.
  • Put the knife’s heel vertically on the inside edge of the lid of the can with the blade angled upward slightly away from you.
  • Carefully push down on the blunt top on the blade edge above the heel to puncture a hole in the lid.
  • Repositioning the chef’s knife and repeat the process until you have punctured enough to be able to pry the can’s lid off sufficiently to get to your meal.

Method 3: Metal Spoon

The next technique is opening a can with a spoon. There’s almost always a spoon at hand, and it can be a surprisingly effective way to open a can without a can opener.

  • Hold the can in one hand on a flat, stable surface with the lid upwards.
  • Grip the spoon with your other hand, holding it partially around the bowl with the outer dip against your palm.
  • Place the tip of the spoon against the inner lip of the can and rock it back and forth while pushing downwards.
  • You should quickly make a groove in the can lid as you rock the spoon.
  • Keep rocking and pressing down, and the spoon will cut a slit in the lid.
  • Use the spoon to press and slice through the edge of the cut to make it bigger.
  • When you’ve got a big enough cut, carefully use the spoon to pry back the can’s lid.
  • Be aware that the cut metal will be very jagged.

Method 4: A Fork

Using the same technique as a spoon, you can use a metal fork to open a can without a tin opener. Unfortunately, this method will usually ruin the fork. However, if that’s all you have and you’re hungry, you can give it a try.

  • Hold the can firmly on a level surface and grip the fork handle vertically with your other hand.
  • Push one of the outer prongs of the fork down into the lid around the inner edge and wobble to make a dent in the thin metal. You’ll need to hold the fork sideways, so the other prongs are outside the lid.
  • Keep working the dent until you puncture through the lid.
  • You can then work the hole and open it up using the fork prong inside the can like a lever.
  • Once the hole has opened up enough, flip the fork over if you have a flat metal handle and use this to pry open the lid.
  • If you don’t have a flat handle, continue to lever the lad open with the prongs.

Method 5: Axe or Machete

An axe, tomahawk, machete, or other large blades might seem excessive, but if you don’t have a can opener, you can use them to open a can. As you need to position the can on its side to open it, this method doesn’t work well with liquid contents that will spill out.

  • Hold the can on a level, sturdy surface on its side.
  • Position the lower sharp tip of the axe blade onto the can right below the ridge of the lid. If using a machete, use the blade’s heel or the lowest part by the handle.
  • Push down on the flat back of the axe head or back of the blade to puncture a small hole in the side of the can.
  • Remove the blade, rotate the can slightly and repeat the process to expand the cut.
  • Continue rotating the can and cutting through the outer edge until you’ve opened in enough to get the contents out.

Method 6: Flat-Nose Pliers

You can use flat-nose pliers to remove the lid from a can. So if you’re without a can opener but have your tool kit, you can try this method.

  • Hold the can in one hand on a level surface.
  • Use the pliers to grip the edge of the lid sideways.
  • Squeeze the pliers to crush the lip while rocking them side to side to distort the lip and break the seal.
  • Continue around the can until you have crushed and distorted the lid all the way around.
  • Now grip the lip vertically with the pliers while holding the can tightly with your other hand and pull the top off. You may need to rotate the can to pull it in different places before the lid gives way.

Method 7: Tin Snips

Tin snips are a great tool to cleanly remove the lid from a can without a can opener. They are ideal for liquid foods as you can open the can without spilling the contents.

  • Place the can on a flat surface and hold it firmly with one hand.
  • Use the snips to cut the outside lip of the can carefully away.
  • Make a single cut and then rotate the can in stages to cut the lip off in a continuous piece.
  • You can either cut the entire lid off completely or pry and bend back the lid to open the can once you have cut about three-quarters worth.

Method 8: Metal File

You can use a metal file to break through the lip of the lid and open up your can without a can opener. You need to take particular care about removing any metal shavings from your food before eating it, so this might not be the most convenient method.

  • Hold the can in one hand and file back and forth horizontally against the lip.
  • Rotate the can periodically so you file evenly.
  • Once you have filed through the top of the lip around its diameter, you should be able to pop the lid off by gently squeezing the sides of the can.

Method 9: A Rough Surface

If you don’t have a can opener or any other tools, you could try using an abrasive surface like concrete or a rough rock to get to your food.

This method isn’t the greatest as it needs lots of elbow grease and can be messy. You need to take care not to get dirt or metal splinters in your food.

  • Find a flat, rough surface like a concrete floor or flat rock.
  • Place the can upside down on the concrete and vigorously rub it back and forth in a scrubbing motion while pushing down on the can for a maximum of ten seconds
  • Rotate the can periodically while rubbing to wear the lip evenly.
  • Check the can to see if any liquid has leaked out. You may see it on the stone while you are rubbing and should stop if you do. If the can has leaked, you’re ready to pop the lid off.
  • If there’s no liquid and the lip is still intact, push down and rub the lid on the concrete for another five seconds.
  • Turn the can the right way up and, if possible, wash it with fresh water to remove any dirt. If you don’t have clean water, wipe the surface of the lid with a clean cloth.
  • If you have a spoon, butter knife or another implement, you can pry the lid off.
  • Alternatively, squeeze evenly around the sides of the can with both hands to pop the lid off.

Method 10: Your Bare Hands

The last method of how to open a can without a can opener is to try with your bare hands. This way needs a lot of physical effort and strength. It is also the messiest method of how to open a tin, and you’ll more than likely end up getting food on you and your clothes.

However, if you’re really in a pinch, then it is possible to damage the can enough that you can break it open with just your bare hands. After going through all the effort, you definitely won’t forget your can opener again!

  • You need to dent the can on opposite sides. You could do this by hitting it against a rock or other angled surface like the corner of a wall. 
  • Alternatively, if you are strong enough, you can grip the can between your hands and squeeze it into the sides to make a dent.
  • Once you have a deep dent on both sides, you need to start to bend the can to break the metal.
  • Push the can by holding it in your hands and pressing one side at a time together to try and bend it at the dent.
  • Spin the can and repeat on the other side. You will need to really squeeze your pectoral muscles together!
  • Once the can has started to flex, you should be able to grip the top and bottom and bend the can back and forth at the dents.
  • Eventually, the metal should start to split. Keep rocking until the can opens up completely.
  • Finish pulling up the can apart so you can get to the food inside.

Finishing Up

In a pinch, there are many ways how to open a can without a can opener. Typically the best one to try depends on what tools you have with you. If you have nothing apart from the can, you can always resort to brute strength.

Make sure you take care of the inevitable dangerous metal edges when you open your can and check your food carefully for any dirt or metal before you eat it.

You might also want to double-check your packing list next time, so your can opener comes with you and makes your meals a lot easier to prepare!

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