I'm no detractor of single-purpose tools. I own the Tofu press, for crying out loud.
But as a former olive hater (don't worry, I've since seen the light!), I don't own an olive pitter. And while it's easy to hack a cherry-cum-olive pitter using a glass bottle and a straw, I don't own either of those things, either.
Lucky for people like me, there are a whole lot of alternatives.
Here's a breakdown of the candidates, plus a little bit more about each one.
The good: Knife, meat pounder, fingers (depending on olive variety)
The bad: Potato masher, fingers (depending on olive variety), fancy knife work
The silly: Frying pan, paper clip
Back in 2011, Amanda and Merrill demoed this super easy, super reliable way to pit an olive without an olive pitter.
This might be even easier than using an olive pitter.
Perhaps a sturdier potato masher would have worked. But our perforated one simply squeezed all of the juice out of the olive, then left it with some awkward tattoos.
In theory, this should work: If you can use a knife to loosen olive pits from the olive flesh, why shouldn't you be able to use a heavy pan to do many, many olives at once?
The answer: flying olives. When I smashed all the olives at once, they flew everywhere and ended up more dented than pancaked. I ended up using the pan as I would a knife: to individually squash each olive. While this ultimately worked, it was no more effective than the knife (and, due to the olive juice that spurted everywhere, much more slippery).
Many commenters on our cherry pitter hack article lauded the paperclip method, in which a paperclip is unwound halfway, then used to puncture the olive and hook its pit.
No matter how I tried to use the paperclip, I had trouble. After some struggle, it did work effectively on the soft and wrinkly oil-cured black olives. But it tore the meatier Castelvetrano olive apart.
Ali also questioned the appeal of shoving a paperclip, which might have been gathering dust in a file cabinet somewhere, into an olive we were about to eat.
As I sweated over my frying pan and paperclip, Kristen stood to the side, chuckling. She used her fingers to pinch the olive flesh and squeeze the pit out of the other side. This may work well for soft oil-cured black olives, but it's not going to help you with the meatier, firmer varieties (as I learned the hard way).
From a 45-minute olive preparing experience, I know that using a paring knife around the pit and pulling the two halves apart, as you might a stone fruit, is not a good idea. Not only is it tedious and messy, but it leaves you with flesh-heavy pits (and therefore a lot of wasted olive).
It should be noted that none of these methods yield a super-tidy presentation: The olives are left in a state more appropriate for a cutting board than a serving platter and you're left with some accidental juice. The olives will still be good for tapenade, olive jam, and baked feta, however.