One basic rule of life is that everything is easy with the proper tools, and nearly impossible without them. A great example of how this works is the can opener: Although we’ve had the pull-tab design since 1962, you can still somehow find plenty of canned goods on the grocery shelves that lack this simple advancement—and if you have one and lack a can opener, you will quickly learn the definition of futility.
That doesn’t mean it’s impossible—cans are designed to be opened, after all, even if it doesn’t much seem like it after you’ve spent 15 minutes denting and cursing it. A can opener is just a sharp blade wheel that slices through the seal on the can’s lid, after all—the main problem with most attempts to open a can without one is that they resort to the wrong physical forces. A hammer is going to do a lot of damage to your can, but it probably won’t open it in any useful way. Here are the smartest and easiest ways to open that can without a can opener (and without cutting off a finger in the process).
How to open a can without any tools
If you don’t even have a spoon to your name when you need to open a can, don’t despair—you can still get that can open as long as you can give it a little elbow grease. All you need is a rough surface—a rock will do just fine, as will concrete or sandpaper.
Just turn the can upside down and rub the top along your rough surface vigorously. This will wear down the soft metal on the top of the can, eventually separating the seal—it shouldn’t take more than a minute to do this, because friction is some powerful stuff. You can pause periodically to give your can a squeeze to see if you’ve worn it down enough, or you can wait until you see some leakage. At this point, you can probably pop the top off with a squeeze like Popeye going for the green stuff, or insert a knife or other flat tool into the seam to lift off the top.
Just pay attention. If your mind wanders while you’re rubbing the can you could wear the deal away entirely and your food could wind up all over the place. The trick is to stop before you get to that point. And also be careful about metal shavings—just like sanding wood, this method will create a bit of metal “dust” that you’ll want to make sure doesn’t get into your food.
How to open a can with a knife, screwdriver, or spoon
The lid on canned food is designed to be punctured, but you’ll need a tool that will do the job. Placing the can on a flat, stable surface, you need to puncture the top along the edge several times in sequence, then peel back the lid enough to pour out the contents.
A sharp, sturdy knife will puncture the lid most easily (a box cutter can do the job, as well), but is kind of dangerous to use—it’s easy to really hurt yourself if your hand slips. If you have a flathead screwdriver (hammer optional), it’s a little safer to tap the tip of the screwdriver around the edge of the can until you’re able to insert it under the lip you’ve just created and peel the top up.
There’s also the spoon method, which requires you to grind the edge of the spoon along the inner edge of the can until it deforms, then insert the tip of the spoon and rock it up and down to slice through the seal until you have a large enough opening. This requires a little more dexterity and effort, but is good to know about if you somehow lack any kind of knife or screwdriver but do happen to have a spoon—just be careful about the sharp edges this creates.
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