Pumpkin carving is a fun Halloween tradition that’s popular among both children and adults. To carve your own pumpkin, you’ll first need to purchase or pick one from a local farmer’s market or pumpkin patch. Make a clean workspace to do the carving in, and trace or draft your design on the side of the pumpkin before you begin cutting. Remember also that you’ll need to scoop out all of the seeds from the pumpkin’s interior. Make sure to keep knives away from young children, and supervise older children who want to cut their own pumpkin.
EditPumpkin Carving Templates
EditChoosing a Pumpkin
- Buy a pumpkin shortly before Halloween. Although Halloween excitement can build early in October (especially for children), do not buy your pumpkin too early. Most pumpkins will be rotten beyond recovery after a week and a half to two weeks. With this in mind, buy your pumpkin about a week or less before Halloween.
- Select a pumpkin from a pumpkin patch or supermarket. Many venues will sell carving pumpkins as Halloween approaches. Visit your local supermarket or pumpkin patch for a good offering. If you live near a farmer’s market, vendors there may also sell pumpkins. Find a location with a healthy selection of pumpkins and that have a range of sizes.
- If you’re pumpkin hunting with young children, a pumpkin patch may be the most fun for them. You can find a local pumpkin patch by searching online or keeping an eye open for advertisements around the area where you live.
- Select a healthy pumpkin. When you’re choosing a pumpkin, try to pick one that’s free of nicks, bruises, and cuts. Look for a sturdy stem that doesn’t feel too bendable, and for mostly consistent color all the way around. Knock or thump on the skin like you would a melon; if you hear a hollow sound, the pumpkin is ripe.
- Look for a pumpkin with a flat base. This will make it easier to display the carved pumpkin on Halloween night.
- It’s not important if the pumpkin you like is clean or dirty. Remember you can always wash the pumpkin with an old cloth when you get home.
- Pick the size you need. If you’re planning on an elaborate pumpkin carving, note that a larger gourd will provide more surface space, but also takes more work to carve. Selecting a round, medium-sized pumpkin is a popular option.
- If you have kids and simply plan on drawing faces on your pumpkins with a permanent marker, try picking up several small to medium samples for them to put different designs on.
EditTracing a Design
- Choose a design before you start carving. Before you start cutting, figure out what kind of design or face you want on your pumpkin: you can carve a typical “spooky” face with a toothed grin, a haunted house, or the silhouette of a cat or a bat.
- Many jack-o’-lantern designs are available online; try searching for more ideas. Alternatively, drop into your local library and borrow a book of carving ideas. A variety of images can be very inspirational for developing your own.
- Choose a method for carving your pumpkin. While it’s conventional to hollow your pumpkin and then carve through the outer gourd into the hollow center, other methods of carving will allow your pumpkin to last longer, and involve less work with knives. A few popular carving options include:
- Carve a traditional jack-o’-lantern. Plan to cut out eyes, a mouth, and perhaps a nose. This design is easiest for beginners.
- Carve a silhouette. Pick a shape—for instance, a ghost—and carve out the “negative space” around the ghost’s shape, then carve out features like eyes or a mouth. You’ll end up with a circle of light around the dark shape, with lighted details.
- Carve down to the pulp. For a daytime jack-o’-lantern that you don’t intend to light, use an x-acto knife to scratch away the pumpkin skin and reveal the pulp. Don’t carve all the way into the gourd.
- Trace your design on the pumpkin. For traditional, silhouette and pulp carving, use a permanent marker or dry-erase marker to outline your design on the pumpkin. (Dry-erase markings can be wiped off if you mess up.) If you’d rather not draw your jack-o’-lantern design free-hand, you can find a pattern online and trace if onto your pumpkin.
- If you’re decorating pumpkins with children, letting them draw the designs can be a fun way to include them, yet avoid having them handle sharp carving tools.
EditCarving the Pumpkin
- Set up a spacious work area. Pumpkin carving can quickly become messy, and it’s best to keep that mess off the floor or kitchen table. Lay down some newspaper or a brown sack from your grocery store on a flat surface. Lay out your tools, as well as a bowl for discarded pumpkin innards.
- Doing this protects the floor or table surface and makes for an easy clean-up when done. Once you’re finished carving, you can bundle up the newspapers and throw the whole mess away.
- Select a sharp knife. For effective pumpkin carving, use a serrated bread knife, a jab saw (used to cut drywall), or a purpose-made serrated knife taken from a pumpkin-carving set. If you do not have a serrated knife, or if you prefer to use a straight-edged blade, opt for a paring knife or a filet knife.
- Cut a lid. Measure a circle with about a 2-inch (5-cm) radius from the stem. You’ll cut around this circle to make the lid. Do not make the cut completely vertical; instead, angle the point of the knife in towards the center of the circle. The lid will then sit in a bowl-shaped indentation that prevents it from falling into the center of the pumpkin.
- The lid doesn’t have to be cut in a circle. Try shaping the lid as a square, star or other shapes. Just make sure you keep the knife angled toward the center of the pumpkin as you carve the lid and opening.
- Remove the filling from the pumpkin. Use a large spoon, an ice-cream scoop, or your hands to pull all of the strands and seeds from the inside of your pumpkin. Place the seeds, pulp, and other scrapings into the large kitchen bowl that you set out earlier. Scrape the pumpkin as clean as you can, so that more light shines through your jack-o’-lantern.
- This step can be skipped if you’re simply carving down to the pulp of the pumpkin, with no intention of hollowing it out.
- Carve your design. Use a gentle back and forth motion to cut into the pumpkin, and take your time. Make sure to cut precisely along the design that you’ve traced on the pumpkin’s surface. Draw the knife back and forth, while maintaining a steady downward pressure. Keep following your pattern until you’ve carved out the entire design.
- If a cut section of your design doesn’t remove easily the first time, run the blade around it again and then push on that section from the inside. You may also find that a toothpick stabbed into the section will help you to pull it out.
- Use caution when wielding a knife. Cut away from yourself; never pull the knife up towards yourself through the pumpkin.
EditLighting and Displaying Your Carved Pumpkin
- Light your pumpkin with a candle or tea light. Traditionally, jack-o’-lanterns are lit with candlesticks or tea lights.  If you choose to illuminate your carved pumpkin with candles, do not leave them lit overnight or if you’re away from the house.[Image:Carve a Pumpkin Step 13.jpg|center]]
- Ventilate as needed. If you do choose to use a real candle, make sure your carving will provide the flame with enough oxygen to keep burning. If you’ve cut several large holes in your pumpkin, you should be fine. If not, consider cutting a small vent in the lid, or remove the lid entirely.
- Light your pumpkin with a LED light. If you’d prefer not to illuminate your jack-o’-lantern with a lit candle, you can substitute an artificial light source for the same effect. Flashlights and flickering LEDs are popular modern options.
- LED and other artificial lights are safer (less likely to start a fire) and can burn all night, unlike tea lights.
- Display the pumpkin in a safe area. If you’re using a candle in your pumpkin, place it in an area away from flammable items. For instance, don’t place it near a hay bale or scarecrow; those items could light on fire if your pumpkin gets jostled or knocked over. Additionally, take care that a trick-or-treaters’ dangling costume won’t get caught by the candle’s flame.
- If you’re using a candle to light your pumpkin and placing it on anything wooden, place a dinner plate down first, to catch wax and avoid setting wooden porches, tables, or stairs on fire.
- If your pumpkin starts to shrivel, fill a deep sink and soak the entire carved pumpkin for a couple hours; it will rehydrate and swell slightly, reviving enough for another couple of days of display.
- Leaving your pumpkin outside in the cool air will extend its life.
- If you are a Halloween crazed adult and have the skills and the time you can use power tools to speed things up as it’s considerably easier to cut through a sick pumpkin with a jigsaw rather than a flimsy saw you would get in a pumpkin carving kit. You can also use sculpting tools people would use to work with clay and a vegetable peeler you can peel off the thick skin and then use the finer tools to shape the pumpkin very effectively.
- Don’t limit yourself to simply carving one side of the pumpkin. Wrap around designs, such as cat’s footprints or flying bats, as they make great additions.
- Keep small children away from candles and knives. If children have picked out a special pumpkin and want to carve it themselves, make sure to supervise closely so they don’t get hurt.
EditThings You’ll Need
- A pumpkin
- A sharp (preferably serrated) knife
- Newspaper or brown bags
- A spoon or scoop
- A permanent or dry-erase marker
- Candles or LED lights
- An x-acto knife for pulp carving or small details (optional)
- A lighter or matches (optional)