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P-38 or P-51 Can Opener Review

In Gear Reviews by Jesse Mathewson

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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Not everything made for the military is truly well made. In many cases what is made for the military, regardless of nation of origin, often is low-end and fits into a rather loose set of restrictions guiding its building.

This is the case with the amazing folding can opener known as the P-38 and P-51. 

The P-38 can opener was designed for soldiers in 1942, it filled the need for a can opener for the C Rations that existed in some form through the early 1980s when MREs replaced these. It should be noted that an identical tool was featured in a 1924 Popular Mechanics issue in tools for women. (see picture) The provenance as we can see is slightly murky.

Can opener

This is not a history lesson, I will leave that for others who are willing to dig further than I am at this time. It should be noted that it was not the Army that invented it, but rather an individual working under contract out of a private laboratory in Chicago, possibly far earlier than 1942. The P-38 or P-51 has never been known to break, need sharpening or rust. It simply works and it works very well!

Every single soldier that has had one has embraced them and ends up keeping them for many years. This truly is one of the best inventions ever made. It is a true multi-tool in that its design allows use for many applications and it does those well without fuss or being large and complicated like so many approaches to the same issues today.

They are extremely easy to use and inexpensive to purchase. Here are the instructions for use of the can opener regardless type as printed by the military.

can opener instructionsCan Opener Directions

  1. Open blade
  2. Place can opener as shown in diagram (see attached diagram)
  3. Twist down to puncture slot in the top of the can
  4. Cut top by advancing opener with a rocking motion. Take small bites as you move forward.

Sterilize it after every use!

There is really nothing I can say that will detract from the overall benefit seen in this simple tool. I would suggest purchasing U.S. Shelby Co. labeled product versus others available. Because of the very low cost to produce these great tools, there is no real market for knock-offs, the profit margin is extremely low. You can buy a package of ten of them for under $10 using this link here. And yes, I have specifically tested and used these. Again, they make amazing stocking stuffer type gifts.

If you are thinking, why do I need 10 of these, well the answer is literally this good. One for the keychain, two for the tool drawer in the kitchen, one for your car and one for each bug out type bag, another for traveling and always have spares because…the airport security may indeed take yours. Personally, I have purchased several dozen over the years. Between losing them and giving them away it is definitely something to buy a few of!

There it is, my review of the P-38/P-51 can opener and with a definite buy a couple more as a suggestion I can end this article with a two thumbs up. Hope you enjoyed this article, comment and let me know when you got your first can opener and if you use it regularly.

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Free the mind and the body will follow

Jesse Mathewson

Arizona since 86', lifetime prepper, camper - criminal justice advanced degrees, numerous certifications, 1+ million rounds (shooting for decades), prior contractor, instructor, current volunteer, disabled, honest, father of two husband of one - all budget and prepared. Jesse Mathewson reviews because regular people need someone in their corner as well!