To ensure your jack-o’-lantern is primed for Halloween, follow these tips.

While Halloween may look a little different this year, there’s no reason you can’t still have an amazing outdoor display. If you’re not interested in shelling out big bucks for a 12 foot animatronic skeleton, or if your style is more autumn chic than gothic gore, you have plenty of options when it comes to the traditional jack-o’-lantern. Before you cut into your sacrificial squash, check out these top tips for making a carv-tastic display.

Pumpkin selection

There are no rules for what size or shape makes for a great jack-o’-lantern. Any pumpkin can rise to ghoulish greatness. Do look for a pumpkin that isn’t bruised and has no mold around the stem. Who wants to cut into a rotted pumpkin? Also, look for a pumpkin with a flat bottom that will sit firmly without rocking.

Tools

Every job is made easier by the right tools. A kitchen knife is not the best — or safest — thing to use for pumpkin carving. You can get a set of pumpkin carving tools at many hardware or drug stores around Halloween, but you can also use items already in your possession — power drills, awls, wood gouges or even cookie cutters. Don’t forget a big spoon to scoop out the guts!

Carving

Rather than giving your jack-o’-lantern a cap by cutting it at the top, draw a circle on the bottom of your pumpkin and cut your opening there, making sure to angle your blade toward the center to create a ledge for support of the finished cut area. Clean out the guts (save the seeds and roast them for your post-carving snack!) and scrape the insides of your pumpkin until they are about an inch thick in the areas you plan to carve. If you’re using a pattern, tape it on and transfer it by tracing with a poking tool. Then you’re ready to carve! If you’re using a pumpkin saw, it’s easiest to keep the pumpkin on your lap, holding the saw like a pencil and using a steady up-and-down motion. Saw at a 90-degree angle with gentle pressure.

Preservation

To extend the life of your jack-o’-lantern, spritz it with water and keep it in the refrigerator while it’s not on display. Spread some petroleum jelly on the cut edges to keep them from drying out. If your pumpkin starts to shrivel, submerge it in cold water for a couple of hours. It should come back to life. Just make sure to dry it well on the inside to avoid mold. You can also ward off mold and insects by spraying or soaking the pumpkin with a water-and-bleach solution.

Display

If you are using a candle, cut a hole in the top of the pumpkin toward the back to act as a chimney for smoke and heat. A candle will be more secure if you drill a hole for it. You can also use battery-operated LEDs, Christmas lights or even a nightlight to illuminate your pumpkin. If you carve a design in the back of your jack-o’-lantern, you’ll produce a shadowy effect on the wall behind it, making it extra spooky!

However you choose to carve your jack o’ lantern, use your creativity and have fun.

Beyond the jack-o’-lantern

For more simple and spooky outdoor decor ideas, check out these fun Halloween hacks.

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Originally published October 2014.

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