The Swiss Army Knife Can Opener – A Rundown

Swiss Army knives usually have can opener on them, but it may not be super obvious how to use them. Once you learn how, though, it should be pretty easy to do. Here’s a quick guide on the proper techniques of a Swiss Army knife can opener.

Two Types of Can Openers

Depending on your model of multitool, you could have either a dedicated can opener or a can opener and bottle opener combination. You can easily tell which is which by opening the tool and checking to see where the blade is facing.

If the blade is facing away from the body, it’s the dedicated can opener. If it’s facing towards the body, it’s the can/bottle opener duo. Also, the blade for the dedicated can opener is usually a lot more convex than the duo.

This distinction doesn’t make that much of a difference in the process, but it will determine the direction in which you cut the can open.

How To Use a Swiss Army Knife Can Opener

Knife in hand, you’ll want to place the hook under the rim of the can lid (the fulcrum) and the blade on top of the can (the load) just inside the lid, which creates a type of class one lever. Holding the can steady, pull up on the body of the knife to puncture the lid with the blade.

Now, depending on the type of can opener you have, you’ll either move forwards of backwards. Basically, you’re going to cut in the direction the blade is facing.

The rest of the process involves repeating the first cutting action you made and continuing the cut around the edge of the can, making sure to leave a little bit intact so that the lid won’t fall into the can.

Once you’ve finished cutting, bend the lid up with the tip of the can opener and you’re good to go!

Other Uses For the Can Opener Tool

The can opener on a Swiss Army knife was meant to be used by soldiers on the field who had no other way to access their canned food. That said, it’s unlikely that you’ll be starving to death with a can of food in your hand because you had no tool to open it (unless you’ve just locked yourself in the basement). Because it would be a shame for your tool to go unused when you don’t have a can around, here are some things to consider the next time you pull out your multitool.

As a Screwdriver

This one is pretty obvious since the end of the can opener was designed to be a flathead screwdriver, but it’s definitely something to remember. It’s usually the smallest screwdriver on the knife, so that means it’s good for tiny jobs.

As a Fire Starter

Instead of striking the main blade on your knife on any fire starter rod you may have and dulling the edge, you can use the can opener blade instead. That way you don’t have to worry about ruining the edge you would use for cutting.

For Scoring an Orange (or other various things with peels)

The can opener blade is great for making shallow cuts in peels to help peel it. You can even rest the hook on the peel to help maintain a constant depth when cutting.

As a Scraper

If you need to get some paint off of a very particular spot on a chair or want to scrape lint off of some jeans, the can opener would be a good tool for the job. Its tiny size allows for precise scraping and lets you reach small areas.

For Carving Out Small Concave Indents

If you’ve ever wanted to make a spoon out of wood, then you have just the tool to make it. Unlike a normal knife, the convex shape of the can opener allows you to easily carve out a bowl.

For Grabbing Stubborn Objects

The flat bottom of the blade could make for a sort of hook to help grab things that won’t budge, like a stubborn tent peg. I don’t think this would have too many applications, but it’s definitely a worthwhile consideration.

Pocket Knife Can Opener vs Kitchen Can Opener (also some history)

Peach can, 1856

The biggest difference between the tiny can opener on a pocket knife and a can opener you’d find in a kitchen drawer is the fact that the kitchen opener involves lots of moving parts and gears whereas the pocket knife opener is a single piece of metal. But more interestingly, the two types of can openers utilize different classes of levers to cut into the lid.

The pocket knife uses a class one lever with the rim of the lid serving as the fulcrum, but the kitchen opener is a class two lever with the fulcrum at the joint. Both take advantage of the rim around the lid, but strangely enough, the rim is just a by-product of how cans are made and weren’t added to make opening cans easier.

Although a bit random, this is interesting because dedicated can openers weren’t produced until about fifty years after the invention of the can itself, until which people just used a hammer and chisel to access the stuff inside. The first cutting wheel can opener didn’t even clamp to the edge of the can but rotated around the middle of the lid. The double-wheel can opener we use today wasn’t a thing until nearly 150 years after the inception of canned foods.

So I guess we’re lucky we don’t have to wallop a chisel through a nickel-thick lid just to get a taste of some signature Heinz tomato soup (but I’d prefer some good canned lychees myself).

That was a quick rundown on all things Swiss Army can opening. It might be tricky to cut off a lid at first, but with enough practice, you’ll be a pro. And if you ever get discouraged enough to where you want to quit, just keep trying. You may think you won’t be able to do it, but here’s the thing: you can.

Hopefully you found this article helpful. If you have any questions or concerns (or want to complain about unnecessary puns) then be sure to leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

4 thoughts on “The Swiss Army Knife Can Opener – A Rundown

  1. Looks like there is too much that can be done using small portable swiss army knife cane opener. My old man used to have one like this long back but lost it when we went hunting. I think he used it less often  than he would have if he had come across this article. Sometimes you just get used to using it for one think till you won’t ever imagine it can peel oranges or starting a fire.

    1. Hi Donny,

      It’s amazing how often we limit certain tools to the things they were designed to do. It makes sense of course, but it would take a lot of intention to turn a hammer into a ribbon curler–and the same idea goes for the Swiss Army can opener. 


  2. Oh my god, i tried once to open a can with a swiss knife and i still cannot figure how i didn’t manage to cut my fingers! It needs a bit of practice to open it nicely. But as with everything with enough practice after a while it becomes easier. It just need to be extra careful in the beginning. 

    And as you rightfully said it can be used in so many other situations. Your article really give some nice ideas there. Good read.

    1. Hi Stratos,

      It can be easy to overlook the usefulness of some tools, but it’s sometimes amazing how many things a simple device can accomplish. The Swiss Army can opener isn’t the most useful thing, but I imagine most people would overlook it because they’ve never needed to open a can with it.

      As for actually opening a can with a Swiss Army Knife, it’s can be very tedious, but it’s also kind of fun. But like you mentioned, it can also be a bit dangerous.

      I’m glad you enjoyed this article!


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