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How to Carve a Pumpkin: Tips and Tricks
Learn about pumpkin carving tips, picking out pumpkins, and preserving pumpkins!
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Halloween is such a great time of year. Everyone has the opportunity to dress up in costumes and be anything they want to be and spooky decorations adorn every neighborhood. One of the most iconic Halloween symbols is the pumpkin, and there are so many pumpkin crafts you can make, but nothing beats the classic Halloween Jack-o-Lantern. Jack-o-Lanterns are such a great family activity, from picking out the perfect pumpkin, to coming up with a creative design, to proudly displaying your artwork on your stoop. Here, you’ll find all the basics of pumpkin carving so you can have a successful Halloween.
There’s a lot to consider before you start hacking and slashing into a pumpkin. You have to figure out the proper size and shape for your pumpkin, you have to think about what tools you need, and you have to make sure the process isn’t too messy. Look through these tips and tricks below for detailed step-by-step instructions that will help any beginning pumpkin carver.
Have a haunting Halloween when you create your spooky Jack-o-Lantern by following these easy steps.
Pumpkin Carving Basics: How to Pick a Pumpkin
When picking your pumpkin to carve, there are a few things to consider.
- If you already have a pumpkin carving pattern in mind, consider, the size, detail, and orientation of the design: Do you need a taller pumpkin or a fatter pumpkin to accomodate your design? Can you get away with a small pumpkin, or are there intricacies that require a larger working surface?
- It's generally good to find a pumpkin with one side that is relatively flat for the side you will carve on.
- It's also important to make sure your pumpkin is flat on the bottom so it will sit nicely when you display it.
- Also, be sure the pumpkin you pick doesn't have a lot of divets and is firm enough to withstand cutting without slumping. No one likes a slumpy Jack-o-Lantern.
Prepare for Pumpkin Carving: Cut it Open and Remove Pumpkin Pulp
Once you've got your pumpkin home, you'll want to gather your materials.
Materials for pumpkin carving:
- A serrated knife or steak knife (serrated is preferable). If you have an intericate design you'll want different sized knives for detailed cutting and more general cutting.
- A large metal spoon
- Plastic gloves, if you don't like the feel of pumpkin pulp
- Either a marker (dry erase or sharpie) or a poking impliment (sharp pencil or ball point pen)
- A candle or electric substitute
- Your design (either in your mind or printed out)
- Tape, if you have a printed design
Beginning Pumpkin Carving Instructions:
- Put down newspaper at your work area. If you can, wear clothes you don't care about, or maybe throw an apron over your outfit. This will be messy.
- Cut about an inch to an inch and a half around the stem of your pumpkin with your largest knife. Be sure to cut at an angle toward the center of the pumpkin. This will prevent your lid from falling inside your pumpkin.
- Cut off any pumpkin pulp attached to the bottom of your lid.
- If you are using a real candle, cut a "chimney" in your lid to let out smoke. Just three small cuts to create a little notch is enough.
- Reach into the pumpkin and pull out as much loose pulp as you can get with your hands. You can throw this straight in a trash bag or have a large bowl to put it in while you work.
- When you can no longer pull out pulp with your hands, get your metal spoon. Use the spoon to scrape out the sides and bottom of the pumpkin to get all the stringy pulp out. Your candle doesn't want roommates.
Why you should preserve your pumpkin pulp:
"Preserving pumpkin pulp over the winter is quite a tradition. My family is crazy about pumpkin recipes, we enjoy them all year round and we hate seeing those beautiful pumpkins we use at Halloween go to waste once fall is over. And what better way to enjoy their benefits than freezing pumpkin pulp in individual packets over the winter? Perfect way to preserve their quality and taste!"
- Petro, Creative Homemaking
How to Pick a Pumpkin Design
- If you are carving an original design, then you can draw the design straight on the pumpkin with a dry erase marker or sharpie. The benefits of the dry erase marker are that you can adjust the design if you mess up and can erase extra lines when you are finished carving. Once you've drawn your design and are satisfied, you can move on to the carving step.
If you would rather find a pumpkin carving idea online (which is what I've always done) then pick your design and print it out.
- Situate your printed design exactly how you want it on the surface you will carve. Tape it firmly into place. Tape all four corners and all four sides so the design lays as flatly as possible.
- Take your sharp pencil or ball point pen. Poke holes along the lines of your design. Make sure you are pressing with enough force to make an indent in the pumpkin clear enough that you'll be able to cut along the lines when you carve.
Be sure the holes you poke are close enough together that you know where to cut when you remove the paper, but far enough apart that this step doesn't take forever.
Double check to be sure you poked through every line before removing the design.
How to Carve a Pumpkin: Basic Pumpkin Carving Steps
Now that your design is complete, you can carve it out!
- If your design has some larger areas to cut and some more detailed areas, start with the larger areas and use your large knife if you have multiple.
Be sure to cut straight into the pumpkin, because unlike the lid, you want these pieces to fall through and have plenty of space for the light to shine out.
Pay attention to make sure you only carve the places that you want to remove from the pumpkin (for example, if you have an eye with a pupil, you need to make sure the pupil is still connected to the pumpkin when you finish cutting the eye).
- As you cut full pieces, push then through so they fall into the pumpkin. You can pull them out and throw them away later.
- Use smaller knifes for more detailed cutting.
If your design has thinner sections and it seems a bit flimsy after you cut it, you can reinforce these areas with a toothpick, particularly if they are straight and not curved.
Insert a candle! Let your design shine for all to see! Replace the lid after you insert and light the candle or electronic substitute. Don’t forget to take a picture with the finished product! (For bonus points, take the picture with your Jack-o-Lantern while wearing your homemade Halloween costume!)
Pumpkin Preservation 101: How to Preserve Carved Pumpkins
Ways to preserve a carved pumpkin:
- Keep pumpkins from rotting with bleach. If you want a more natural alternative, you can use essential oils like tea tree oil or grapeseed extract.
- Maintain freshness by lubricating with petroleum jelly or vegetable oil.
- Make a natural Pumpkin Preserves Spray!
How to use pumpkins: the versality of pumpkins!
"The best thing about pumpkins is that they are so versatile! You can eat them, carve/paint them or my personal favorite, decorate with them."
- Erica, Craft Create Cook
More Ways to Use Pumpkins for Autumn
If you are not into carving pumpkins, here are some more ways to use pumpkins this fall!
- Make pumpkin flower vase: Pumpkin DIY Flower Vase
- Paint your pumpkins to look like donuts: DIY Darling Doughnut Painted Pumpkins
- Paint pumpkins with chalkboard paint: Painting Pumpkins with Chalkboard Paint
- Dress up your pumpkins with burlap: DIY Burlap Pumpkins
- Craft pumpkin place cards: Thanksgiving DIY Pumpkin Name Cards
- Make pumpkin candles: Cinnamon Pumpkin DIY Candles
Additional information in this article provided by:
Petro, Creative Homemaking
Erica, Craft Create Cook
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