Pumpkin Carving Tips

Now it is time to consider a plan for carving your pumpkin.

Will you carve a portrait or the standard eyes, nose and mouth shape? The options are as varied as the people carving the pumpkin and as different as the shapes that pumpkins grow in. You can buy a pumpkin design kit or just tackle the project with your own design. Whatever you decide to do, be sure to have fun.

Here are some steps for carving your pumpkin.

First you will need to take a good look at your pumpkin and decide which side of the pumpkin you want to use as the face.

Before you can begin to carve your design, you must prepare the pumpkin by removing the seeds and thinning the inner walls. (Save the seeds to make roasted pumpkin seeds.) Depending on the complexity of your design, allow an hour or more to create your Jack 'O Lantern.

You can gain access to the inside of the pumpkin by cutting a small hole in the bottom or the top. A bottom hole works especially well if your pumpkin doesn't want to stand up straight. You can discard the portion that is cut, then set the pumpkin over a candle or other light source for illumination.

If you cut out around the top stem, be careful not to cut in a circle or the top will fall through when you try to replace the lid after carving. Instead, cut a six-side shape with the stem in the center. When cutting a lid, it also helps to angle the blade of your knife or saw inward, so it creates a small lip for the lid to rest upon.

Once you've gained access to the pumpkin, use a large scoop to remove the seeds and strings, then continue to scrape away on the inside of the pumpkin until the walls are no more than 1" thick. You can make more elaborate designs by scraping some areas thinner than others so that the light shines through strategic areas of the pumpkin wall, but for overall carving, scrape the walls to about a 1 inch thickness. If you need to check, you can do so with a pushpin or thin pointed object like an icepick.

If you are using a pattern design, trim excess edges from the paper to better fit your pumpkin. Next attach the pattern to the pumpkin with tape or straight pins. (An easy way to transfer the design to your pumpkin is to soak the paper pattern in water to help it stick and conform to the pumpkin.) Once your pattern is in place, allow it to dry completely before starting to transfer the design.

Use a puspin to poke holes around the design lines. Poke through the paper and outer pumpkin skin. On large designs you can place the dots farther apart, but for detailed designs place the dots close together. Check to see that all the lines have been transferred before removing the pattern.

Once you are ready to carve your design, remove the pattern and rub some flour over the design to make the dots easier to see. Start from the middle of the design and work your way out to the edges. Always cut out smaller parts first, larger parts last. Use a large pumpkin carving saw for the big areas and a tiny detail saw for the smaller, more intricate areas. It's usually easiest to hold the pumpkin in your lap, and hold the saw as you would a pencil. Push the blade into pumpkin or, rock it gently forward and back to insert it. Pumpkin saws are somewhat fragile, especially the finer ones. Don't put too much pressure on them or they will break. Saw with a continuous up-and-down motion, with gentle forward pressure. In order to avoid putting pressure on carved (and therefore weakened) areas.

The last step is to anchor a candle inside (tinfoil makes a good candleholder) and light it. Locate where the smoke blackens a spot on the lid, then cut a small chimney hole there, so heat and smoke can escape.

If you cut too much

When you cut off an eyeball or break off a tooth where you should not have...just insert a toothpick to the side wall of the severed part. Leave a small piece (about 1/2 inch) sticking out (cut to shorter length if necessary). Then carefully fit your severed pumpkin part back in place.

Your pumpkin will have a small scar but after all...it is Halloween, and scars are fashionable now.

This will not work on severed human fingers, so be careful with those knives!

Basic Carving Tips

  • Draw your design on the pumpkin with a water-based marker beforehand.
  • Cut the lid at an inward angle with a sharp, straight-edged knife. This prevents the top from falling into the pumpkin when it shrinks.
  • Remove seeds and pulp.
  • When carving, keep a portion of the knife blade in the pumpkin and use slow, steady saw strokes.
  • Carve the facial features closest to the center first and work outward. Cut out the larger features in sections.
  • Remove carved portions by gently pushing them into or out of the pumpkin.
  • Flatten a spot at the base of the pumpkin for the candle, but avoid digging too deep because the pumpkin becomes prone to rot.
  • Carving should not be done earlier than a day or two before Halloween. Jack 'O Lanterns have short lives, unless you preserve your pumpkin.

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