Pumpkin Carving 101
Nothing says Halloween like a grinning (or gruesome) jack-o’-lantern beckoning trick-or-treaters to your door. And carving a perfect design can be as easy as—pumpkin pie. Follow these simple tricks to create your own Halloween masterpiece.
Tricks of the Trade
When choosing a pumpkin, opt for ones that are symmetrical and firm with a bright orange colour and no bruises or soft spots. You’ll need at least one good side to carve if placing the pumpkin outside. If using as a centerpiece, make sure all visible sides are smooth.
The shape of the pumpkin determines what sort of design you can carve, so plan your design before buying. Smiling faces work best on round pumpkins while tall, oval ones are ideal for creepier looks.
Remember: Carving a pumpkin is a fun activity for kids, just make sure an adult is close by to supervise and handle sharp tools.
- Before carving, assemble the necessary tools and a garbage bag to discard pulp, seeds and leftover pieces. Lay newspaper on the floor or kitchen table to keep it clean. The newspaper will also stop the pumpkin from sliding around. Then follow these simple steps:
- Clean your pumpkin using a wet rag to remove dirt and dust. Make sure it’s perfectly dry.
- Cut a hole at the top or bottom of your pumpkin using a knife or keyhole saw. Use a back-and-forth motion to cut through the thick, tough skin. When cutting a lid, carve at a 45-degree angle (the knife pointing down towards the centre of the pumpkin). This will create a ledge for the lid to rest on so it doesn’t fall down into the pumpkin.
- Hollow out the insides with an ice-cream scoop, spoon or jar lid. Scoop until the wall is about ½ to one inch thick. This will make it easier to carve.
- Draw out your design with washable marker or pencil. Step back and make sure the design is evenly placed. If using a stencil, attach it to the pumpkin with tape or straight pins. Transfer the pattern onto the pumpkin by poking small holes along the outline with straight pins or nails.
- Holding the pumpkin in your lap will give you the most stability for carving. Knives are the quickest tools but don’t always give precise, smooth cuts. Pumpkin saws are more accurate but take longer and are prone to breaking if too much pressure is applied. Woodworking tools also allow for precise carving.
- Hold your knife (or saw) and cut with continuous up-and-down motions. Apply gentle pressure to avoid breaking the blade or the pumpkin. Work from the centre of the design outwards. Remove and reinsert the knife to cut corners. Gently push cut off pieces away from the pumpkin using your fingers.
- If you’re having trouble cutting through the skin, make shallow cuts along the edges of the design. Then go over the incisions with deeper cuts until they become loose. Or use an electric drill to break through tough skin.
- After the pumpkin is carved, coat the edges and insides with petroleum jelly or cooking oil and wrap it in plastic so it doesn’t shrivel up. If it does shrivel up, soak it in water for a few hours. Drain well before setting it out.
- When using candles or lights, cut holes in the pumpkin to avoid it from over-heating and becoming a fire hazard. White votive candles in clear glass holders give off the most light and won’t tip over. You can also use a flashlight or outdoor-safe holiday lights. When using a string of lights, wrap them around a glass jar to avoid the bulbs touching each other or the cord. Cut a hole at the back of the pumpkin to thread the plug through.
Don’t forget: Blow out candles and unplug lights before leaving the house or going to sleep.
Carve out your own spooky Halloween look with these fun ideas:
- Use a grapefruit spoon or craft knife to peel away skin for interesting shading.
- Cookie cutters (moons, cats, stars) make for easy designs.
- Coat pumpkin with a thin layer of transparent glue and sprinkle glitter powder or coloured sugar over it. Glue artificial bats or spiders onto the pumpkin. Cover with fake cobwebs.
- Create a creepy pumpkin person by stuffing old clothes and placing a jack-o’-lantern head on top. Rest it on a chair to greet trick-or-treaters.
- No time to carve? Glue fake eyebrows and eyes to a pumpkin then top with a witches wig and hat; or paint a face with glow in the dark paint.