Automatic can openers are incredible inventions. Most people today can’t imagine how anyone muddled through life without one. Of course, they’re also notorious for refusing to open certain cans or breaking down just when you need them to help you get dinner on the table. Not everyone has a manual can opener for backup, and most of us can’t find it when we need it if we happen to have one on hand.

All hope isn’t lost if your traditional can opener lets you down and there aren’t any pull-tab cans in the pantry. A few time-tested methods can connect you with the food locked inside those stubborn metal cylinders. They may not be fast or simple, but they’re certainly effective.

1) An Automatic Knife

Automatic knives, such as switchblades or otf knives, can be used in place of can openers. Before you begin, be sure the blade of the knife is locked in place so it doesn’t retract unexpectedly. Then, place the can on a sturdy, flat surface, and position the knife vertically over it with the end of the blade touching the top of the can. Hold the handle of the knife with one hand, and firmly tap the end of the handle with the other until it punctures the metal. Move the end of the blade over slightly and repeat this process until you can bend the lid back far enough to free the food inside.

2) A Spoon

Trying to use a spoon to get into a can may seem counterproductive, but it’ll work in a pinch. For this method, place the spoon upright against the top edge of the can. You may need to put on a glove to improve your grip on the spoon’s handle and keep it from digging into your hand. Rub the spoon back and forth over a small section of the top of the can. This will eventually wear away the metal and make it possible to punch through. From there, keep moving the spoon over a bit, rubbing through the metal in sections until you work your way around the top of the can.

3) A Fork

To use a fork to break into a can, hold the fork upright with one of the outer tines touching the top of the can. Tap the fork firmly with a rock or other blunt object to pierce the can lid. Then, keeping the tine inside the edge of the lid, work the fork up and down while gradually pushing it forward as you would with a P-38. You’ll essentially tear away the top of the can. This process will probably bend the fork beyond repair, but you’ll be able to proceed with your meal plans.

4) Scissors

Using a pair of scissors to open a can is one of the simpler methods as long as your scissors can take the pressure. First, close the scissors and stand them upright against the top edge of the can. Tap them to punch through the lid. Then, open the blades, and either cut or tear your way around the rest of the lid.

5) A Flat Rock

If all else fails, you can use a rough, flat rock or concrete paver to open a can. Alternatively, find a nice sidewalk to use. Place the can upside-down on the rock or other stone-like surface, and scrub it back and forth until you see moisture emerge. Take care not to scrub for too long without checking the top of the can. Otherwise, you might spill all the food you work so hard to get to.


Keep in mind, patience is a virtue, and it’s important to use caution with all of these methods. Each of these strategies could be dangerous because you’re working with sharp or rough items, and the can lids will pose hazards of their own once they’re removed. Still, if you don’t have a working can opener at your disposal, these tricks can come in handy.