Tried & Tested: Opener verdict: There are as many ways to open a tin as there are Heinz varieties. Our panel judged modern and traditional versions of an indispensible tool

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The Independent Culture
THERE is no end to the ingenious ways people have invented to open tins - from the army recruit's traditional favourite, the bayonet, to the more easily available Scout's penknife. If you want a less improvised - and safer - means of getting at your baked beans, there are many more options than the old- fashioned stainless steel butterfly opener. We asked a panel of testers to give a selection of manual and electric openers a try, to see which was easiest to use and which felt safest. A tester with a disability has given his view, which we hope will be particularly useful for people whose fingers aren't as nimble as they might be.

THE PANEL

Fiona Flynn, student teacher and mother of two-year-old twins; Amerjit Bains, student in psychological counselling; Gareth Unwin, president of the students' union at Ravensbourne College; Michael Turner, freelance copywriter (Michael Turner has some difficulty with manual dexterity, because of a disability).

THE TEST

Panellists gave the tin-openers marks for how comfortable they were to handle, how easy they were to manipulate, how much strength was needed to use them, how attractive they were, and how safe they felt. Scores were then converted into a best-buy star rating.

***ZYLISS

pounds 9.50

This Swiss-made tin-opener was among the most popular of the manual models. Panellists found it comfortable to handle and liked its appearance. It has a special safety feature: when you close the two parts of the tin-opener on the tin, a button locks it tight, gripping the tin so that the opener can't slip off. The panellists felt it was the safest, though a bit tricky to operate at first and requiring some effort. 'Once you get the hang of this, it's easier to lock on to the can than the traditional design, but not really easier to turn,' said Michael Turner. 'This opener is useful if you're really pushed for space, as the locking device means the tin doesn't have to sit on a work surface,' he added. Amerjit Bains commented: 'Lovely elegant design, would complement any modern kitchen.' 'Looks good, feels good, and works well without cluttering up workspace - a good thing when you share a kitchen with 14 people,' said Gareth Unwin. But at pounds 9.50 the Zyliss would make a hole in the pocket of a hard-up student.

****LEIFHEIT .TX.- pounds 4.99

If you find opening tins tricky, this one could be worth a try. It was the easiest of all the manual tin- openers to use. Panellists found it the most comfortable to handle, the easiest to manipulate and the one that required least effort. Setting the electric ones aside, Michael Turner gave it his highest score: 'The plastic moulding on the handles and the knob make it very easy to grip and by far the easiest to turn. It also locks on to the tin very easily,' he said. 'Fast, effective, easy to grip,' said Amerjit Bains. The panellists' opinions differed as to whether they would like this tin-opener to be seen in their kitchen. 'A very provincial, suburban design - in other words, ugly,' said Fiona Flynn. Amerjit Bains, however, thought it 'refreshingly colourful'.

**WILLIAM LEVENE

HOME MASTER LIFT-OFF

pounds 3.99

This gadget was an innovation in the world of tin-openers. It cuts the lid right off the tin just below the rim, leaving a jagged edge on the tin instead of the lid. Despite the manufacturers' marketing of this as a safety feature - because, they claim, people usually handle the lid more than they do the tin - our panellists thought it felt less safe than most of the more conventional tin-openers. 'The metal edge at the top of the can is a fatal flaw if, like me, you have kids or you're clumsy,' said Fiona Flynn. The testers also found it one of the hardest to use. 'The cat got pretty frustrated waiting for his dinner while I tried to work this one,' said Michael Turner.

***WILLIAM LEVENE

MAGICAN

pounds 5.99

An upmarket version of the Home Master, this opener works in a similar way but holds the lid so you don't have to handle it at all. This scored better than the Home Master but most testers still weren't convinced about its safety. 'It looked like it left a very sharp edge, though I didn't endeavour to confirm this impression,' said Michael Turner. The company says it is developing the ultimate tin-opener, which will leave both tin and lid with a smooth edge.

**BRABANTIA

WITH MAGNET

pounds 7.20

The testers found this solid-looking tin opener, which has a magnet to attach it to the tin, clumsy to use. Two of the panel thought the magnet a bonus, the other two didn't. 'Heavy and cumbersome, but the magnet redeems it slightly,' said Gareth Unwin. Amerjit Bains commented: 'Frustrating and finicky to handle. I wasted time lifting the magnet off the can, trying to position the blade correctly.' A version of the Brabantia without the magnet is available for pounds 5.30.

****KENWOOD .TX.- ELECTRIC CO600

pounds 14.99

Michael Turner gave this effort-free opener, together with the other electric one, top marks - but the other testers didn't find it particularly easy to manipulate. Amerjit Bains found the instructions hard to understand: 'I had to make two attempts before the tin opened. The first time, the opener cut only half the tin. On the second, it cut some of the rim off the top of the can. Probably easier with practice.' Gareth Unwin said: 'It's a bit fiddly getting the can lined up, but then it worked well without any effort.' Fiona Flynn felt an electric tin-opener was surplus to her requirements: 'I'm not very keen on gadgets for gadgets' sake - and this tin-opener falls into that category for me.' But she thought the space for hiding the flex an excellent idea. 'I wish more manufacturers would follow suit.' The tin- opener also has a bottle opener and knife-sharpener.

***** RUSSELL HOBBS .TX.- COUNTRY STYLE ELECTRIC

pounds 12.99

This electric tin-opener won over the entire panel; it was the easiest to use. Like the Kenwood one, it required almost no effort, but it was easier to manipulate than its more expensive rival. Panellists didn't think it looked as good as the Kenwood, though. 'A little outdated, in a cheap-looking plastic,' said Amerjit Bains. 'Bulky design, but worked well,' said Gareth Unwin. The very fact that it was so easy to use provoked some resistance in Amerjit Bains. 'It feels like the ultimate in laziness to have a machine to do the simplest of things like open a can,' she said.

*BOOTS

79p

The traditional tin-opener, but not likely to qualify as a design classic. Instead, it was outclassed by the other updated models in our test, which were all far easier to use. Trying to use this opener drove Amerjit Bains round the bend. 'After more than 10 attempts, I still couldn't get this to cut even the slightest into the tin. Think twice before taking this one camping.' Fiona Flynn said: 'It's small, unobtrusive and comfortably familiar. I just wish they worked] This one came out well when I tested it, but I know from long experience that this type is useless after a while.' Michael Turner's tip was to stick a teaspoon in one of the holes in the butterfly to use as a lever. 'This actually makes it easier to use than some of the fancier openers.' However, most people will find it simpler to invest a few pounds in a more effective model.

FOR STOCKISTS: William Levene (081-868 4355); Zyliss (0428 658888); Leifheit (081-749 7211); Brabantia (0275 810600); Kenwood (0705 476000); Russell Hobbs (061-681 8321).

NEXT WEEK: READY-MADE

SANDWICHES

(Photograph omitted)

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