Difference Between P38 and P51 Can Opener

Difference Between P38 and P51 Can Opener

The P38 is a popular can opener and is widely available at most stores. However, the P51 is a more efficient, powerful model that offers greater functionality and benefits. In this article, we’ll look at the differences between these two models of can openers to help you make an informed choice when buying one.

Difference Between P38 and P51 Can Opener

The p38 and p51 are among the oldest can openers. The use of the openers dates back to 1942. The truth is that the initial opener was manufactured in 1914 but late improved. The p38 opener, together with p51, has almost the same design. Both openers enjoy a lightweight and simple design, unlike the current openers that are bulky and sophisticated.

Blaze Size

The two names are derived from their blade sizes. A p38 opener puncture 38 times to completely open the can, while a p51 equally went 51 times to open the big trays. The blade size for a p38 is 38 mm, while that of a p51 is 51 mm. It is the size of the blade that was used to name the openers.

Purpose of Use

Mostly p51 and US p38 Military-style can openers are perfect for fishing, hiking, and camping tools. The tools are essential for the general survival of the family. Both openers are easy to carry as they carry little weight with them. To make it easier, you can fix a p38 or p51 on your key ring, tackle box, and also in an emergency survival kit.

Size of Can Opener

If you compare the two openers, it is prudent to claim that p51 is a larger version of p38. The primary purpose of manufacturing the p51 was to enhance the opening of large cans of chow and big trays. The additional blade length for p51 afforded more leverage with little thumb pressure use. It is most likely true that a p51 lasts longer than a p38.

The p38 can opener has a vibrant history. During World War II, when the hungry soldiers were ready to take their meals, mostly K or C-rations, p38 was used to open the cans. Much as the simple tool was only developed in the summer of 1942 by the Subsistence Research Laboratory in Chicago, it became very famous. Initially, the device was officially known by the name US Army Pocket Can Opener.

On realizing that the opener did 38 punctures to open the C-rations cans fully, the name quickly changed to p38. But for the people in both Marine and Navy, the p38 opener was commonly known as “John Wayne” as he used to open the C-rations with a p38 in the World War training films. When the p38 opener was developed, it was wrapped and delivered in brown Kraft paper packets with directions and diagrams printed on them.

History claims that ever since the Korean and Vietnam, WWII vets opened their first can of C-rats with p38, the handy gadgets have adorned the keyrings and dog tag chains. Soldiers during World War II referred to themselves as GIs being interpreted as “general issue” or “government issue.”

The original term GI was an abbreviation printed on the C-ration cans to mean galvanized iron. It is therefore said that GIs held competitions of opening cans using p38. The race was won by GI, which could open the C-rat can in less time possible.

Further claim suggested opening of the C-rat can before one finishes reading sentences as a benchmark to winning the race. More GIs started putting the p38 in their military & medal displays, making the unopened vintage p38s in their original paper wrapper much harder to find.

In the USA, p38 has lately been packaged as part of the necessary items by relief organizations after natural calamities (storms, floods, tornados, and hurricanes). Since most people use electric can openers, when disasters hit and there is a power blackout, the p38 comes in handy.

Also read: Best Manual Can Opener Reviews


The device p51, unlike the p38, was designed for the military especially mess hall cooks, to open the trays and large can of chows. A p51 happens to be a complete 2” long tool while a p38 is 11/2”. If measured in millimeters, p38 has a 38 mm blade while p51 is 51 mm long. It makes 51 punctures to open a big tray, just unlike the p38 that makes 38 punctures to open a can.

Unmistakably, p38 can opener a long history of its own through several wars and military operations. It would be a big crime to be found during a storm, ice storm, or hurricane without a working can opener.


The cost of purchasing a p51 military-style can opener is just about $1.39, while a p38 is less than $1.0.

Since the p51 blade is more significant than the p38, it offers leverage and reduces the thumb’s force to rip open the can.

The p38 Military style can opener is branded by many as the “Army’s Greatest Invention.” During World War II, new fighter planes and German pistols were invented. However, none of these new inventions became more famous than the tiny device to open the ration cans.

Also read: How to Use an Old Fashioned Can Opener?

The tool, developed from stamped steel, works on any size can rim. The developers found that a p38 can opener would go 38 times to rip open a can completely. The quality of the two can openers is reasonably high. On either end of the duo openers, there is a perforation. The hole helps to fasten the can opener to either the key rings, dog chain, or emergency tackle boxes.

The primary role of having the perforation on one end of the opener was to fix a wire on it. The wire would then be used to hold the opener when it was undergoing sterilization.


Our kitchen cabinets are likely to display high quality can opener with some electric. Young people may only know how to use the new versions of openers. In times of disaster, a p38 can opener is a lesson in simplicity at its very best. We desire that every part of life can be as simple, dependable, and valuable as a p38 or p51 can opener.

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