Your Choice of Can Opener is Important

This shows how a side cutting can opener goes in through the side of the can/lid seam, and creates a replaceable top.
This shows how a side cutting can opener goes in through the side of the can/lid seam, and creates a replaceable top.

Here’s something you may not have thought about.  It is a small issue, but like so many other small issues, it is as easy (and sometimes easier) to ‘get it right’ and to do it in a fully optimized manner as it is to do it ‘wrong’.  So you probably should do it right.  And every small extra enhancement to your overall preparedness and ability to live better in a problem situation has to be a good thing, right.

With that as an opening, let’s now talk about can openers.  It might seem like a ridiculously trivial topic, but please do keep reading.

You of course know that can openers come in all shapes and sizes, of course.  There are the nasty primitive ones that leave a jagged edge around where they have ‘sawed’ open the can lid – these are the original types of can openers, and have only one benefit – no moving parts, and a lot of negative downsides (if you’ve used such openers and never cut yourself, you’re in a very lucky minority).

In the mid 1920s, a new design of can opener appeared, and it was further improved in the early 1930s, becoming the familiar two arm, hinged in the middle, opener with a cutting wheel (or maybe, more simply and not as satisfactorily, a stationary blade) on top and a matching pressing/turning wheel below.

We call these vertical cutters.  They cut down through the top of the lid.

More recently (we think about ten years ago) a new type of cutter started to appear.  This cuts horizontally rather than vertically, into the folded over seam between the lid and can body.  They were initially hard to find and very expensive, but over the last decade, have become more common, better made, and less expensive.

Although you doubtless have a drawer full of vertical can openers, most of which work reliably and well, we recommend you set them all aside and instead buy (and use) a horizontal type opener.  These are sometimes referred to as a ‘smooth edge’ type cutter.  They are only a little more expensive than a standard vertical opener, and they have two important advantages.

The first is indeed the smooth edge.  There’s less to cut yourself on, and while that might sound like a trivial thing, remember that any type of possible infection after TEOTWAWKI can be much more serious and even life threatening than is the case at present.  So the safer final result is a plus.

Talking about infection, some people also like the fact that the smooth-edge horizontal side cutter also doesn’t have its blade come in contact with the contents of the can.  This is a very small added benefit, but – hey – any benefit of any magnitude is better than a negative factor, isn’t it!

The second advantage is that the opened can becomes reusable.  You can press fit the lid back onto the can – this won’t give you a truly air-tight or water-tight seal – it is more ‘air resistant’ and ‘water-resistant’, perhaps.  However, it will definitely keep dirt, dust, and also insects, animals and hopefully rodents out of whatever you have stored in the can.

Most of our current storage concepts seem to involve plastic containers.  Sure, they can provide excellent barriers to oxygen and moisture, but they don’t provide any protection at all against rodents in particular, who will happily chew through plastic material without any hesitation.

So being able to put the side-opened metal lid back on the emptied can is a useful feature, although you then need some way to ensure the lid isn’t dislodged.  You could possibly solder it on in a couple of places, or in any of many other ways secure it in place.  The simplest method is just to put a rubber band around the tin and lid, or better to make it two at right angles to each other.

Sure, you can buy plastic snap on lids to put on traditional top opened cans too, but they are plastic and therefore vulnerable to rodents.

You may have heard the half-joke half-truth that long after man has vanished from the earth, there will still be cockroaches thriving everywhere.  The same is true of rodents.  We expect that with the changes that will occur in a Level 2 or 3 situation, rodents will necessarily become more aggressive at searching out food, just the same as people will, and anything/everything you do in terms of how you’ll store supplies needs to be done with an eye to keeping them as rodent proof as possible.

That’s not to say that rats can’t eat through metal cans, because they can and sometimes do.  But the can is at least a partial barrier and added layer of protection.  We would recommend packing foodstuffs in sealed barrier bags first, and then placing the bagged foods into washed and cleaned cans.  Keep the smell of food away from the packaging so as not to attract rodents.

This page on Amazon lists side-opening ‘smooth edge’ type can openers, but be careful.  There are a few traditional openers that have been miscategorized and appear in the results too, but if you read the descriptions carefully, and possibly look at the photos, you can see which is which, and even if you guess wrong, Amazon has a great return policy.

Some people have reported that they prefer units which don’t cover the top of the can – they find it easier to align the opener with the can if it is located to the side of the can rather than on the top.  Some people also feel that gears at 90° to each other are better than inline/parallel gearing.

The Amazon reviews will give you more insight into which units seem to prove the best in actual use.

You’d want to get at least two hand-operated openers, plus perhaps you might optimistically get an electric one too – both for use at present and for use in situations where the grid might remain up, or you have sufficient solar or other power to run appliances such as this (which happily use very little power).

We’ve been using side cutting openers for years ourselves, and while we sometimes find it a little harder to start the can opening, we love the results and would never go back to a standard can opener.  Try it, and you’ll probably love it too.

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