Mar 18, 2013

Be Prepared

How many of you can identify what is pictured at the right? I first encountered one in my grandfather's kitchen. He couldn't find the utensil in the drawer that he needed, so he took out his key chain and opened a can of soup with it. Yes, that is right, it is a can opener. It is a P-38.

In 1942, the P-38 was designed, tested, and actually went into production in less than 30 days. It was originally made for K-rations in World War II, but was used for many years in Korea and Viet Nam for C-rations too. I ran into it again in the mid to late 1970s when I was in Boy Scouts. Nearly all of the adults coming on the camping trips carried them as they have MANY uses (listed below). While not as predominantly used/dispersed because of MREs, I've always carried one or had it handy since then. In fact, that is the only thing I still use in my kitchen.

The Army called it an "US ARMY POCKET CAN OPENER" and "OPENER, CAN, HAND, FOLDING, TYPE I." But, there are several theories on where the designation of P-38 came from. Yes, there is a P-38 fighter plane, and a gun. The US Army sources indicate that it took 38 punctures to open a ration can (like a soup can top). But another theory is because it is 38 mm in size (approximately 1.5 inches). US Marines tend to call it a "John Wayne" because reportedly they watched a training film he was in (before becoming a famous actor) showing how to use it. Does it really matter where the name came from? No, just know what it is called. 

Using a P-38
These are really easy to use. Unfold the cutting edge (pics at right), hook the notch in the middle of the handle against the rim of the can, use a thumb to press the blade into the can. Continue the motion until you have punctured all the way around the can. Easy peasy.  Other reasons I'm rarely without one, there are more, but this is a summary.

  • can/bottle opener                                                                             
  • screwdriver, especially for glasses with the small point
  • when fishing to cut the line, gut and scale a fish
  • clean sole of boot/shoe, cut a stray string from your clothes
  • pick teeth, clean under your fingernails 
  • box cutter, letter opener
  1. Order them online, but check a local Army-Navy or Surplus store. The store here sells them for 38 cents each or 3 for $1. 
  2. Do not keep one on a key chain if trying to go through security at the airport. A lot of the younger security officers don't know what they are, and are confiscating them. Pack it in your checked bag, or simply leave it home.
  3. To make it easier for you, get a P-51 because it is slightly larger (2 inches long) and easier to use. This typically went to the mess hall since they had to open larger containers.
  4. Buy more than 1. I've given so many of these away over the years, I tend to buy 10 at a time.
Overall, they are the lightest multi-tool that you can, and serve a lot of uses. There are so many other things I have used one for, just didn't want to cause you to scroll too much.

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