I’ve put together an extensive guide to pumpkin carving aimed at the novice to beginning pumpkin carver. These tips and tricks will help you to select your pumpkin, equip yourself with the right tools, carve the jack o’ lantern and keep it preserved once it has been finished. When you are finished, be sure to check out my pumpkin carving patterns as well as my guide to pumpkin painting.
Pumpkin Carving Tools
An Ice Cream Scoop – Use it for scooping out the seeds from the pumpkin. A large spoon will also work. Other tools that were recommended included a wet/dry Shop-Vac, the lid of a margarine container and a tuna can (empty of course). To clean the walls, there is also a spinner powered by batteries that will do the scraping for you.
Cookie Cutters – They are perfect for cutting a hole in the bottom of the pumpkin for the candle. They can also be used to add designs to the pumpkin.
Push Pins – While there are other methods for transferring your template to the pumpkin, this is one of the best.
Knives – Pumpkin carving kits are the best source for a knife or pumpkin saw. They are built to get the job done while minimizing injury to your hand should the two accidentally meet. You can pick one up from Pumpkin Masters. If you must use something from the kitchen, use a small, paring knife.
Pumpkin Carver – Pumpkin Master and Dremel make a battery operated pumpkin carver that is quicker and easier to use than a knife
Surface Carver – Remove the top layer of skin on the pumpkin using a surface carver for a unique twist on the classic carving process.
Linoleum Cutters – I still don’t understand exactly what this is used for but pretty much every article about pumpkin tools mentions the linoleum cutter. So I will as well.
Power Tools – You can also carve pumpkins with a cordless drill and jigsaw. Use a pumpkin gutter on the inner wall of the pumpkin to extract the guts and make carving easier. Don’t try this at home unless you have some prior skill with the tools. This video will show you how it is done:
Selecting Your Pumpkin
Here are four tips for selecting your pumpkin from the pumpkin patch.
Find a pumpkin that is the size and shape of your design. It should also be smooth and evenly colored. Blemishes are more likely to rot and attract pests. The outside skin should be firm but not soft or tough. If it is soft, it will be rotten soon.
Match your pumpkin to your design. The pumpkin should sound hollow if you are going to cut through the walls. The pumpkins for cooking have thicker walls which are more difficult to carve through. If you pick up three pumpkins of the same size, discard the heaviest one. But if you want to do extreme pumpkin sculpting on the surface of the pumpkin, keep the heaviest one as you will want a thicker wall. If you are going to carve a face in a pumpkin, go for an oblong pumpkin instead of a round one.
Be sure that there is a flat bottom so that the pumpkin sits upright.
Avoid mold. Be sure to look around the stem as it is an indicator that the pumpkin may be rotten.
Clean the Inside
Start by washing and drying the outside of your pumpkin. Then remove a section of the pumpkin from the top or bottom so that you can remove the pumpkin seed and insides. This will also allow you to put the candle in the jack o’lantern. Many people recommend cutting the bottom as it is easier to place the candle on the surface and then place the pumpkin around it. However, if you decide to cut the top as is traditional, you should cut at a 45 degree angle so that the lid sits nicely on the top of the pumpkin and doesn’t fall right through.
Use a Template
There are thousands of printable pumpkin carving patterns on the internet. Pick one that you like and is within your skill set and follow these instructions to make a jack o’ lantern out of your pumpkin.
Advanced Carving Techniques
One advanced technique that you should learn to advance your pumpkin carving is shading. Here is a video that shows you how to do it.
I also like Walt’s pumpkin carving secrets. I don’t know who Walt is but he has at least one technique there that I haven’t seen on any other website, which I think is pretty cool. You can also use these tips from Sunset to carve yourself a more elegant pumpkin.
Cut a chimney in your pumpkin and preserve it so that it last longer. I’ve already talked about pumpkin preservation, but you will also find the Lifehacker article on preserving your masterpiece valuable. As you will also need a chimney in your pumpkin, get the process for cutting a chimney via Epicurious.
I don’t want you to injure yourself while you are carving a pumpkin. So here are a few safety tips for pumpkin carving that I discovered while doing the above research.
Don’t let your kids carve pumpkins. Most accidents on Halloween happen to children from 10 to 14 years old. And the most common injury is a laceration to the fingers or hand. Even with adult supervision, there is a decent chance of injury. Let them help with cleaning out the pumpkin seeds and drawing the pattern. But don’t give them the knife. Let them participate by painting pumpkins instead.
Use a pumpkin carving kit. A sharp knife can become stuck in the pumpkin and cut your finger when it is dislodged. If the saw from a pumpkin kit is jammed, it is not sharp enough to cause a deep cut when it is freed. The equipment is also smaller than a kitchen knife, so it is easier to control and cut intricate patterns.
Dry everything. It decreases the odds that your hand will slip because of moisture. So make sure your hands, the tools and the pumpkin have been thoroughly washed and dried. As you cut, pumpkin pulp can cause the handle to be slippery. Take the time to dry it and your hands before continuing.
Hold carefully. Don’t stick your hand inside the pumpkin. Some experts go so far as to recommend that you cut the pumpkin before removing the top so that you won’t be tempted to do so. The knife is likely to slide easily through the pumpkin at some point and could cut your hand. Professional carvers put both hands on the knife – one for power and one for control. You should as well. Also, cut away from yourself. You will inevitable hit a soft spot in the pumpkin and you don’t want to go into your hand, if it is holding the pumpkin, or your body.
Be careful with the candles. Just because you are done pumpkin carving, the danger is not over. Fire is also a risk from Jack o’ Lanterns.