Martha Stewart Collection Pumpkin Carving Kit (includes six stencils and nine tools). $20 at Macy’s (111 N State St, 312-781-1000)
Treat Because I haven’t carved a pumpkin in about 15 years, I might be too easily impressed. That said, the handheld tools, like the serrated carving knife and special poking device to delineate where you’re cutting (so you don’t leave permanent marker lines on your gourd), make me feel confident as I dig into my pumpkins.
Trick The aforementioned tools are either bent or busted within minutes of beginning my first pumpkin—total buzzkill. And I’m surprised the queen of holidays, Martha, didn’t include more than six festive stencils—including one seriously constipated pumpkin face—or give guidance on using the shading tools, which allow you to create shadowing by carving into the skin but not breaking all the way through it. —Liz Plosser
The Ultimate Pumpkin Carving Kit (includes ten pop-out stencils and four tools). $7 at Chicago Costume (locations around the city)
Treat The directions on the back of the package are easy to follow. The stencils range from run-of-the-mill (Halloween cat) to impressive (a pair of misfit toys) and are easy to use. Since there are so many options, it’s easy to save the leftover stencils for next year.
Trick But you will have to buy new tools. The carving saws get rather flimsy after one use, the marker is pretty weak, and the “Goop Scoop” is more of a scraper (you will get your hands dirty with this one). But the kit helps me come up with a goofy pumpkin face I could never have made on my own. —Kevin Aeh
Pumpkin Masters pumpkin carving kit (includes 12 patterns and five tools), $6 at amazon.com
Treat The dinky “pounce wheel” used to trace a pattern into the pumpkin looks useless but turns out to be remarkably effective. Plus, the scooper tool cleans out the stringy, seedy innards in no time.
Trick Perhaps it says more about my less-than-stellar carving skills than the pattern itself, but even after lighting up my pumpkin, I could hardly make out the shape of an owl in my handiwork. Not to mention, I’d pay a few extra bucks for sturdier saws and an adhesive pattern—Jessica Herman
Tips from pumpkin-carving expert Ryan Sosnowski
1. Start out with a dynamically lit photo of your face/subject. That way you’ll get good contrast with the light and shading.
2. Drop the photo into Photoshop, change it to black and white, and throw a Posterize level on it. This breaks it into colored shapes. You want to make the posterization three colors—black, gray and white. Use black where you won’t carve, white where you’ll cut all the way through to show the light and gray where you’ll create shaving effects.
3. Print the posterized picture as a portrait or landscape, sized according to the dimensions of your pumpkin.
4. Secure it to the pumpkin using thumbtacks. Then start tracing the picture to apply the outline template onto the pumpkin.
5. Use anything sharp and pointy-edged, like a regular dart, to poke holes along each shape in the picture. Then remove the paper. Use the picture for reference while you carve.
6. The very thin saws you get in those pumpkin-carving kits are the best for the details. Just know that they break easily.
7. For shaving to create the shadow effect, use a Speedball linoleum cutter (available at Dick Blick).
8. Check your progress as you go using a lamp with the shade off. Turn the lamp upside down and hold it bulb-side-in the pumpkin.
9. Whatever you do, don’t carve your favorite football team logo into the pumpkin.