My uses for the P38 Can Opener

Copyright © 2009 Kenneth Youngquist All Rights ReservedThe P-38 collapsible can opener was developed during World War II and has been indispensable ever since. It has exceeded it’s original purpose of opening cans and can perform many other duties in a pinch. I have listed below some of the ways that I have used this versatile keychain tool.

– tin can opener (duh!)
– tasting spoon
– striker for ferrocerium rod
– hearthboard coal transfer
– screw driver
– pry bar
– paint can opener
– shipping box opener
– letter opener
– label removal
– staple remover
– thumbtack remover
– paint spot scraper
– putty knife
– clean under finger nails
– privacy door knob key
– Velcro hook pad dethatcher

For more uses and ideas, you can use various web search engines that will provide many other lists to choose from. I’d love to hear from you in the comments section on different ways that YOU have used a P38. If you don’t have a P38 of your own, you can purchase one in the Survivaltek Store.

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12 thoughts on “My uses for the P38 Can Opener

  1. This is a very usefull little tool I have carried with me for years. You have given me many more uses for it than I had thought of. Thanks again

  2. Have you actually used the P38 as a Ferro Rod Striker? I’ve tried with no success. I even attempted to square up the edge with no success. I’m wondering if the metal is, perhaps, too soft.


  3. Hi Sean… Yes! I have successfully used a P38 as a ferro rod striker. Sometimes you need to rough up the outer surface of a ferro rod because it can be too slick to generate decent sparks. I use the bottom edge of the P38.

  4. Use a 1 inch or larger split ring (Keyring) through the hole in the P-38 as a lever to allow better torque on the opener when using the bottom as a screwdriver.

  5. There were two people from the national guard at my school today and they had a booth set up with recruiting info and pamphlets and stuff. One of them noticed my p-38 on my dogtags. He asked if I knew what it was called (I did answer correctly), and he also asked if I knew how many different uses it had. I said “No”. He said that it has 99 different uses. Does anyone know all of them? I have googled it and the closest I’ve gotten is this site. Any help would be great, thanks.

  6. I can add to the list.

    1)Gutting knife (rabbit, used to open the pelt)
    2)Seam ripper
    3)Fishing hook (must do quite a bit of work with a file)
    4)Ammo box opener (especaly tin sealed stuff)
    5)Round Extractor (the hook just happens to fit the AK/SKS perfect and lets you tug a bad round out)
    6)Makeshift knife for wood (you can dig out notches when making snare traps and such)

  7. I’m very depressed… I lost my P-38 last week on a keyring in Western MD.. I have carried it since July of 1978 when I went thru Basic Training for the Air Force… We were at the “Range” qualifying with the M-16 Rifle… We were brought boxes of ‘C’ Rations for lunch and each box had a P-38 in it along with the food in cans… I opened my food and was eating… The rest of the guys wanted to know HOW I got the cans opened??? I told them “With the can opener”!!! I finally had to show them how it worked… I had used one MANY times before in Alaska… Back in the EARLY 70’s I used to keep 2 cases of “C” Rations in the back of my Chevy Blazer along with other Survival “Gear”… Back then, we had NO CELL PHONES in Alaska… Where can I get another STEEL P-38??? All the ones today seem to be made out of some “softer” metal and will bend!!! I should have just put it in a drawer and kept it safe because it was at least 35 years old… I MISS it already!!!

  8. @Ron. You can find them pretty cheap on ebay. Just make sure you get the ones with U.S. SHELBY stamped on it and you will have the real deal. I just picked up a 5 pack for a couple of bucks.

  9. I dunno. I have one of these “US Shelby” new-make ones, and it seems pretty darn soft. I have never tried an old vintage P-38 but if there are softer metal ones out there than this, I’d hate to try to use one. When I open a can, it is hard to hold it and apply the force without just bending the thing. I’ve only opened 3-4 cans now and it’s already got a slight permanent bend to it. I was hoping that was just ‘breaking in’, but we’ll see. I wondered if perhaps the original ration cans were thinner/softer than modern steel cans. As for using it as a screwdriver, it would work for light-duty stuff, but any kind of serious torque threatens to twist it permanently. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like it’s aluminum or something, and it is still a useful tool to have around, but I’d really hate to try one was softer than this.
    As for the P-38 being an invaluable tool for so many different things, I think that is really more a tribute to how you can make a useful tool out of just about anything than to the P-38 as being somehow miraculously useful. I think you would find a small piece of metal on your keychain about as useful, if you were looking for things you could use it for, especially if you sharpened one edge. The folding blade helps add a dimension to its usefulness,but the imagination of the user has more to do with it than some inherent design strength. Just my theory on in. What I mean is that most of these jobs that the P-38 does could have been done equally well by some other improvised tool you found lying around, and there are plenty pof other objects you can find countless uses for if you set out to find them. That said, the P-38 is a good place to start, being portable, metal, flat, with edges and a blade. I would certainly consider it a good choice to have on your person at all times. Along with a lighter and a knife and a flashlight.
    What I want to know is whether I should sharpen the blade, or if that will cause problems. I don’t see why not, other than dulling when I use it to open cans. Well, that and it might cause trouble on the key chain. Maybe not TOO sharp!

  10. I have an old one from nam, (MIL-J-0837) I’ve found

    1. Screwdriver
    2. Box Opener
    3. Can Opener, (duh)
    4. Bottle opener (duh)
    5. Magnesium fire sparker
    6. Small knife to cut up food
    7. Spoon
    8. Round extractor
    9. Finger nail cleaner
    10. Seam undoer
    11. Shoe string cutter
    12. Pryer
    13. Remove stuck key from truck ignition.
    14. Temporary fuse for vehicle.
    15. Butter knife
    16. Emergency self defense weapon.
    17. Crevase tool with a rag around it to clean small areas
    18. Door lock popper

    That’s about all I can think of to use it for.

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