I've always felt limited in my ability to carve jack-o'-lanterns due to a narrow range of tools. Let's face it—a thumbtack and steak knife can only yield so much detail, and cheap plastic tools always seem to break with the first incision. Though I questioned whether it would be worth it to invest in a more serious set, I put my money on a kit from Martha Stewart ($34.99 at Macy's in-store; unavailable online), who, unsurprisingly, is able to create beauties like these lace-patterned gourds featured on her site last year.
Smitten by these non-traditional, ultra-delicate styles, my intrepid carving companion and I set out to accomplish some super-technical pumpkins with the aid of Martha's kit. We eagerly unwrapped more than a half-dozen wood-handled tools, picked our patterns, and pinned them down to be traced through, only to find that we each preferred using our ordinary thumbtacks to Martha's fancy pin pen. Not a good sign.
As the carving went on, we developed a love-hate relationship with the kit. Without the zester, we couldn't have created the signature shadows around Che's silhouette, but the mini-saws were flimsy and bent every which way, making unreliable cuts that were sometimes impossible to control. Though the shape cutters were awkwardly sized and impractical for our designs, we thought it was clever that the wooden poker fit through each to push out any stuffed up pumpkin bits.
A V-shaped tool seemed like a smart and useful addition for delicate detail, but this one was rather dull and required too much force to use properly, thereby risking wild and accidental damage. For my serious lettering job, I switched it out for the previously-rejected pin pen, whose slightly fat disposition made it possible—though incredibly tedious—to achieve accurate typographical results. Somehow, we were able to channel Martha's artistic prowess and carve some seriously cool pumpkins, but I wasn't thanking the tools for it.
As I looked back at the pumpkins I'd lusted for, I realized that even Martha doesn't recommend her own tools. She recommends those that her set reminded me of—ones that artists would actually use for carving more common mediums like wood or linoleum—and I would too. After all, you can re-use those and make stamps out of soap bars when pumpkins aren't in season, or find other crafty uses for them year-round.