I’ve been carrying my P38 for over a decade. It was one of those odd purchases made at a surplus military equipment store. I can’t remember where I got it, to be honest. It was an impulse purchase but one of the best ones that can be made for under a dollar. It is been there for me through thick and thin and has withstood the test of time. I have opened cardboard boxes, pried stuck covers, turned screws, cleaned out gunk from nooks and crannies, and even used it for its intended purpose; opened cans of food.
This stamped metal godsend consists of two parts. The first being the handle, and the other, the tooth. In its folded state it is as thick as a stick of gum. Not Trident, I’m thinking more along the lines of Doublemint. At an inch and a half in length and ½ an inch wide, it is perfect for fitting on your keychain. In fact, it’s got a hole in it that’s the perfect size for most keyrings. There, nestled amongst your keys, this Jack off all trades is ready at a moment’s notice to serve you. Now, I’ll admit, it has on occasion deployed in my pocket and given me a jab every now and again. It’s the price you pay for such loyal, dedicated service from a tool of this caliber.
This mighty mite was pressed into service during the second World War. Designed to open the tins of food supplied in K rations, and then the latter C rations, the P38 saw service into the 1908’s until it was made obsolete by the plastic pouched MRE’s. Now they’re available online or at military surplus stores. There are a few theories as to why it got the P38 designation. Some say that this Army issue can opener used 38 twists to open a K ration can. Others claim that the reason for the designation is the fact that it is nearly 38 millimeters in length. This doesn’t make sense as the US military didn’t adopt the metric system during the second World War. In any case it’s one of the most useful tools one can have. Now, it was superseded by the P51. I found that the P51 is too large to be comfortable on a set of keys and too soft to handle the stresses of prying on things. While the P51 is twice as large as its older sibling and possibly makes for less effort while opening cans. As an odd tool for an odd job I find it to be undesirable. While the P38 was phased out in the 1980s the P51 still sees service in military bulk tray meals and is sometimes included with canned goods in disaster recovery supplies.
It’s operation is wonderfully simple. Unfold the tooth and place the small, hooked notch at the base of the tooth under the rim of the can. Then using a twisting motion toward the tooth puncture the top of the can and then remove the tooth from the puncture. Twist the can a little bit and bring the tooth down once more in the rear of the previous puncture. Repeat this step until the can is opened and the contents is accessible. Be sure to wipe off whatever funk you got on it and fold the tooth back against the handle. Keep one of these with you and the canned world is at your mercy. So, wander into your nearest military surplus store, go to the counter, ask if they’ve got some P38’s, not those clunky P51’s, and pay your pennies for one of the most useful tools you will ever own.
Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, give him a P38 and he’ll eat all of your canned food.
Do you already own one? Let us know how it saved your bacon.