Get the scoop on how to carve the perfect pumpkin this Halloween. We’re sharing our best tips and tricks for carving pumpkins with ease. Plus, get our favorite pumpkin carving ideas!
Learn how to choose the pumpkin most suited for your design, plus our easiest tricks for removing the pumpkin’s insides. We’re also sharing our best hacks for how to make your pumpkins last longer. Pumpkin carving expert Scott Johnson weighs in with his tips for carving your best pumpkin.
Pick Your Pumpkin
Scott’s first tip: Pick the best pumpkin for carving. Know how you want to design your jack-o’-lantern before picking your pumpkin so you know what size and shape to look for. ″If you’re going to do more detailed carving, it’s often easier to carve if you pick a pumpkin with a flatter surface,” Scott says. Keep it simple—you don’t have to hit the pumpkin patch to find a great gourd. Swing by a grocery or department store for a wide variety of pumpkins waiting to be carved. Avoid pumpkins with surface rotting or soft spots. But don’t be scared if they’re dirty, as long as the pumpkins are firm and have solidly attached stems you’re good to go.
Clean and Cut
Don’t make the cut—yet. Wait to carve your pumpkin until two or three days before Halloween. Pumpkins soften quickly, so once you carve it, you’ll only have a few days to enjoy your creation. If you can, display your pumpkins whole and carve them a day or two before your Halloween party or trick-or-treating night.
When you’re ready to carve, rinse off the pumpkin and use a sturdy knife to cut an opening in the top or bottom. Scott recommends cutting a round opening with a triangular notch if you go for the top. ″Without a notch, it can be hard to fit the lid back in when you’re done,” Scott says. Then, start scraping. Use a large cooking spoon to clean out your pumpkin. Scott also recommends that this step take place in the kitchen sink for quick and easy cleanup—no more soggy newspapers! Just remember, don’t put the pulp in your garbage disposal.
Last Updated: May 6, 2021 References Approved
This article was co-authored by Amy Guerrero. Amy Guerrero is an Arts and Crafts Specialist and the Owner of Sunshine Craft Co., a crafting studio based in Phoenix, Arizona. Amy specializes in macrame, DIY crafting, and teaching fiber arts. She offers monthly in-person and online workshops along with having developed a range of DIY craft kits for at-home projects. Amy holds a BS in Industrial Design from Philadelphia University. She worked as a graphic designer before starting her own business. Sunshine Craft Co. is a creative hub that offers a wide range of workshops, tools, and resources for any craft project to inspire creativity and community engagement.
There are 13 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.
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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.
This step-by-step guide to carving pumpkins will turn any gourd into a doorstep-ready masterpiece.
The end of October is the time of easy Halloween costumes and Halloween movies on Netflix, but this spooky time of year is also famous for its pumpkins. Picking pumpkins is fun—learning how to carve a pumpkin and turning these orange gourds into works of art is next-level. Whether you’re using pumpkin carving stencils or going free-hand to display one of your favorite Halloween quotes on a pumpkin, knowing how to carve a pumpkin as well as any expert is key to a gripping Halloween display.
The first step to learning how to carve a convincing jack-o’-lantern actually starts at the pumpkin patch (or your local store). Set yourself up for carving success by selecting a pumpkin in its prime. Choose one with an intact stem—the greener the better.
“The stem is the lifeline to the pumpkin, providing moisture and nutrients even after it’s been cut from the vine,” says Marc Evan, of Maniac Pumpkin Carvers. “A missing stem or one that’s brown and brittle means your pumpkin won’t last as long.”
Keep your uncarved pumpkin out of direct sunlight and as cool as possible, and don’t carve it until right before your Halloween party or the big night itself. While an intact pumpkin can easily last a month or more, once you carve it, you’re looking at a life expectancy of as little as three days to maybe three weeks. “It is a piece of fruit,” Evan says. (For maximum longevity, he stores pumpkins—carved or not—wrapped in plastic wrap in a cool basement or refrigerator when not on display.)
Here, Evan and expert Tom Nardone of ExtremePumpkins.com offer their simple tips for learning how to carve a pumpkin. See the steps of pumpkin carving below, or scroll to the bottom for a handy visual guide to carving a pumpkin.
How to carve a pumpkin
1 Prep the carving area
Take this messy task to an outdoor table topped with a cheap, disposable plastic tablecloth, which you can roll up and throw out after you carve. Too cold outside? Gut your gourd at a kitchen table covered with that same tablecloth or kraft paper. Don’t pick a work surface that stains easily (like your antique dining table).
2 Gather your pumpkin carving tools
Standard pumpkin carving tool kits can get the job done. In particular, the short-handled, wedge-shaped pumpkin scoop can scrape and smooth the inside walls after most of the strings and seeds are removed. But the experts’ favorite tools are ones you likely have in your own toolbox.
Ice cream scoop: This tool—sharp on the sides and meant for scraping—is perfect for removing goop.
Filet knife: Find a knife with a thin, narrow blade. A wide blade just doesn’t stab through tough parts of the pumpkin as easily.
Paring knife: A paring knife is just the right size and shape for carving—the sharper the knife, the easier it’ll be to cut.
Lemon zester and vegetable peeler: Use these tools for creative decorative effects and textures. A melon baller can also be used to make eyeballs.
3 Cut a hole in the back
Cut a square or diamond-shaped opening in the back of the pumpkin, large enough to accommodate a hand and wrist (to scoop out the insides), and remove. Don’t damage the removed pumpkin panel—you’ll put that back when you’re done. While the classic move is to cut a hole around the stem, this structurally weakens the pumpkin and causes it to degrade quicker.
4 Scoop out the guts
Put a big empty bowl in the center of the table to hold the seeds and string, then use your hands or an ice cream scoop to remove the gloppy mess. Make sure to remove every last bit to prevent premature rot and also to keep squirrels and other critters away (essential if your carved pumpkin will be spending any time outdoors). A tool-kit wedge works well for this task.
5 Do a design dry-run
Sketch your pumpkin design on paper, then draw it onto your pumpkin using a dry erase marker, washable colored marker, or grease pencil, all of which wipe away more easily than a pen or Sharpie. For elaborate designs, use transfer paper to recreate your design directly on the pumpkin. If you’re using a pumpkin carving stencil, tape the print-out directly over the pumpkin and carve through the paper.
6 Start cutting
Using the sharpest knife in the house, carefully cut along your design, making sure the hand that’s stabilizing the pumpkin is not in the path of the hand wielding the knife.
If a piece you’ve cut doesn’t pop out, try pushing it in. (You can retrieve it through the entry hole in back.) If it gets stuck, cut it in half. Cut too deeply and a jack-o’-lantern tooth fell out? Use toothpicks to connect stray pumpkin pieces.
7 Preserve your pumpkin
Spray your pumpkin inside and out with a bathroom cleaner containing bleach. Let it evaporate for at least five minutes. This trick keeps the pumpkin from rotting too quickly and protects it from hungry squirrels and other animals.
8 Light it up
Ball up LED holiday string lights inside your pumpkin, letting the cord trail out the back panel to an electrical outlet. Battery-operated flameless candles are another way to glow. Can’t resist a real candle? Be sure to cut a vent in the top back of the pumpkin so the smoke can escape.
Published on October 7, 2020
Learn how to carve a pumpkin for this year’s spooky Halloween decorations. Follow this easy step-by-step guide for jack-o’-lantern success. Tips for the best way to cut, design, store, and enjoy the tasty pumpkin seeds.
Did you visit your local pumpkin patch or store and pick out the perfect specimen to carve this year? I share some essential tips to make the process easy and fun. If you plan to light up the hollow center, I’ll show you the best way to cut and clean.
Picking out the design is always a tough choice. However, once you make it, I like the pinprick method to transfer the image onto the pumpkin. I share my favorite tools for carving and creating more intricate patterns. And knowing just the right time to cut ensures preserving the pumpkin for fall festivities.
Gather tools and set up the workspace
After years of frustration, I finally ditched my flimsy knife set and purchased some quality pumpkin carving tools. I’m thankful I did. The blades are sturdier, sharper, and the time it takes to carve is faster. There are also more options for etching and doing fancier designs. Find a sturdy table or counter, then place a cutting board on top. Alternatively, you can cover the surface with paper or plastic trash bags, especially if you are working outdoors.
Cut the pumpkin lid
Cut the bottom of the pumpkin instead of the top around the stem. This area keeps the pumpkin design cleaner and the top from drying out and falling inside overtime. I cut at a 45-degree angle in a circle that is just large enough to fit the scraper tool and your fist. The angled cut also makes it easier for the pumpkin to sit on top with a better seal on the bottom, if using.
Remove the pumpkin seeds and guts
There will be a bunch of pulp, fibers, and seeds inside the pumpkin that needs to be removed. Use the scraper tool, ice cream scoop, or large spoon and brush the interior walls in a spiral motion. Once you do that, you can use your hands to pull out the goop. Wipe the outside of the pumpkin with a kitchen towel to clean and dry the surface.
Don’t throw away the seeds! It’s easy to roast the pumpkin seeds for a healthy snack.
Transferring the design
There are various pumpkin design options; draw a custom image or use a printed pattern. From there, tape the design on the flattest part of the pumpkin. I like to use a tool that has a needle tip or pushpin would work to pierce holes through the paper, about ⅛-inches apart.
Remove the paper, and you can start carving along the dots. However, you can connect the dots with an erasable marker for more intricate designs, which is easy to wash off the surface. I also like to use a paring knife to make a shallow cut to refine the design, making it easier for etching. Don’t forget to save the design for reference.
Another option is to cut the portions of the design to make a stencil. Then draw the image onto the pumpkin. I also taped an image on the pumpkin and then tightly placed plastic wrap around to secure it. This technique makes it waterproof, and easier to carve.
Follow these 5 easy tips from a pro and you’ll have pumpkin carving success! Then, enter the TOH Pumpkin Carving Contest for a shot at the Grand Prize
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How to Carve a Pumpkin
You’ve seen their creations in our Inspirational Pro Pumpkin Carving gallery. Now, here are pro tips and secrets for every step of the pumpkin-carving process. And when you create your masterpiece, make sure you enter this year’s annual Pumpkin Carving Contest
1. Select It
Photo by Martin Doege (GNU)
Whether you’re opting for a gourd straight from the patch, or choosing to carve a synthetic pumpkin, make sure you consider your design or pattern when making a selection. Pick one that’s large enough and shaped to accommodate the length and width of whatever design you’re going to carve. And before you leave the pumpkin patch, Ryan Wickstrand of Zombie Pumpkins recommends the following: “Make sure it can stand well on its own, and never carry a pumpkin by its stem.”
If you dread seeing your hard work turn to mush—even with good care, a carved pumpkin will last about a couple of weeks—consider an artificial pumpkin, a la Funkins. They have precut holes in the bottom to accommodate a flameless light source and its walls have already been “shaved” down to a thickness of ½-inch, the ideal width for carving and shading.
2. Carve It
Photo by Fun With Food/ istockphoto
The key to safe carving? Sharp tools. Sharpened saws and knives mean you won’t have to use as much force while carving, which reduces the chances of accidental slips. When carving artificial pumpkins, don a mask and goggles to protect yourself from carving dust.
“Nothing slurps out messy pumpkin guts like a good, strong wet/dry Shop-Vac,” says Scott Cummins of Pumpkin Gutter. He also recommends scraping out pumpkin guts with a margarine container lid or an empty tuna can. Ryan Wickstrand of Zombie Pumpkins is a fan of the Pumpkin Gutter drill bit (no affiliation with Cummins’ site), a special tool that grips pumpkin gunk and quickly shaves down the inner pumpkin wall.
For stability, carve out the small pieces first, then work your way up to larger cutouts. “In fact, it’s wise to leave the cut shapes wedged in place until you are finished cutting all the lines. This will provide added support until you’re done carving,” says Wickstrand. Once all the cuts have been made, pop out the sections with your finger.
Some pros carve freehand, but using a template to lay out your design prior to carving can help. Simply print the pattern you want to use (available at any of our pro carver’s websites) and secure it to your pumpkin with tape. Use a toothpick or sharpened pencil to poke guidelines into the surface of your gourd.
Want to carve a This Old House-style pumpkin? You can download our exclusive templates, Scary Second Empire and Creepy Queen Anne.
3. Light It
Photo by The Hardware Aisle
You can create an opening at the bottom of the pumpkin to accommodate a light source. But if you opt for a lid, make sure you cut out a notch for hassle-free replacement. Angle your cuts inward to prevent the lid from falling in.
The light source you choose can affect the life span of your pumpkin. “Using a low-watt electric light instead of candles will reduce shriveling,” says Gene Granata of Masterpiece Pumpkins. Try the Pumpkin Powered Light or Ultimate Strobe Light from Pumpkin Masters.
4. Preserve It
Photo by Courtesy Scott Cuimmin of pumpkingutter.com
Thoroughly gutting and cleaning the pumpkin before you start will make for a longer-lasting carving. But after you carve, Ryan Wickstrand of Zombie Pumpkins suggests sealing in moisture on cut edges by applying a coat of white glue. JP of Jammin’ Pumpkins recommends applying petroleum jelly to carved edges to prevent moisture loss. “I like to spray Lysol on the whole carving and inside the whole pumpkin to keep the pumpkin-killing bacteria away,” says Stoney of Stoneykins.
Masterpiece Pumpkins’ Gene Granata recommends Pumpkin Dunk’n (about $5), a preservative soak that promises to add as much as two weeks to the life of your carving. Meanwhile, 3D carver Scott Cummins of Pumpkin Gutter recommends bagging and cooling your work. “After your pumpkin has been displayed for a few hours and you notice some drying, you can temporarily revive it by completely submerging it in chilled water for a couple of hours. I put a tiny bit of bleach in the water,” he says.
Shown: One of Cummins’ creations spends the day bagged and iced, and comes back out again for nighttime display.
5. Photograph It
Photo by Courtesy JP of Jammin’ Pumpkins
The best way to preserve your pumpkin is to take a good picture of it. But photographing lighted objects can be tricky. Eric Wilhelm, CEO of Instructables.com, who photographs his own jack-o’-lanterns every year, says there are three keys to the perfect capture:
A steady camera
Longer than usual exposure times (he photographs his carvings using 0.8 to 2.5 seconds of exposure time)
A tripod is best for keeping the camera steady, because even slight movement can blur your image. If you’re just going to rest the camera on a table or other surface, Wilhelm advises using the delayed shutter function (or timer) to give the camera a chance to stop shaking after you hit the button.
Wilhelm also recommends eliminating any background light and placing minimal light sources in front of the pumpkin. “I photograph in a dark room with two side-mounted, low-wattage flood lights pointing toward reflective surfaces,” Gene Granata of Masterpiece Pumpkins adds. This gives the pumpkin a presence in the photo.
Shown: A perfect pumpkin picture by JP of Jammin’ Pumpkins that shows a blur-free, lighted carving.
It’s an old tradition, but these tips will hopefully make things go smoothly and safely.
The arrival of autumn brings with it cooler weather, colorful foliage, apple picking and, of course, Halloween, which includes everyone’s favorite fall pastime: carving pumpkins.
Although carving a jack-o’-lantern from a fresh pumpkin isn’t particularly difficult, there are ways to make the process go more smoothly and safely. Here are a few pumpkin-carving tips and techniques that will ensure you’ll have the best and spookiest-looking jack-o’-lantern in the whole neighborhood.
Choosing the Right Pumpkin
The very first step is to find the right pumpkin for carving. There are lots of different types of pumpkins out there, but they’re often divided into just two categories: pie pumpkins and carving pumpkins. Pie pumpkins, which are often called sugar pumpkins, are small and round and ideal for baking. Carving pumpkins are larger in size, but have thinner walls and fewer guts, making them easier to cut into and clean out.
Before purchasing the pumpkin, rap on it with you knuckle in several spots to ensure there aren’t any soft spots, which indicate rot. And remember, the very freshest pumpkins last the longest, so consider buying your carving pumpkin at a “pick-your-own” farm.
Use the Right Carving
You can carve pumpkins with various kitchen knives, but to step up your game, consider using clay-sculpting tools, such as wire-end ribbon tools, stainless steel scalpels, or wood-carving gouges. Execute cuts with a serrated knife, keyhole saw or compass saw. And to create round holes in the pumpkin, try using a cordless drill and spade bit.
?A 1-inch-diameter bit makes perfect eyeholes.
Rudimentary pumpkin carving sets are sold everywhere this time of year, but most are a pretty flimsy—though they’re great for kids. And if you want to add speed and power to the project, get a pumpkin-carving rotary tool, which comes with lots of different attachments for cutting, engraving, and carving jack-o’-lanterns.
Use a pen or marker to draw a circle around the top of the pumpkin. Use a serrated knife or saw to cut along the line to create a removable lid. Lift off the lid and use a large metal spoon, or similar tool, to scrape out the interior guts. And if you’d like, save the pumpkin seeds for roasting in an oven.
Next, mark the remaining cutouts onto the pumpkin, including eyes, nose, mouth and teeth. Make the cutouts with a small paring knife or narrow saw, such as a keyhole saw. If you’re having difficulty holding the pumpkin steady as you cut into it, get a large bowl, line it with a double-thick terrycloth towel, then set in the pumpkin. The bowl will secure the pumpkin and the towel will keep it from sliding around as much.
?If the pumpkin dries out and gets tough, mist the flesh with a 50/50 mix of lemon juice and water.
The technique described above is the traditional way to carve a pumpkin, but there’s another popular method of making relief cuts into the pumpkin. Instead of cutting holes, this technique uses various ribbon sculpting tools to carve facial features—cheekbones, eye sockets, nose, wrinkles, and mouth—into the skin of the pumpkin. Then, when a candle is placed inside the pumpkin, the light will radiate through the flesh, lending an eerie glow to the pumpkin.
Let There Be Light
To illuminate your jack-o’-lantern, place a tea-light candle in a glass votive holder and set it in the bottom of the pumpkin. Use a long match or lighter to light the pumpkin and replace the lid. And drill a small hole, about ½ inch in diameter, in the lid to act as a chimney to allow heat to escape.
?If you’re having trouble lighting the candle, try going through the mouth of the jack-o’-lantern instead of down from the top.
If using candles, place the pumpkin outdoors and away from anything flammable. To illuminate indoor jack-o’-lanterns, use either battery-powered flameless candles or remote-controlled LED pumpkin lights.
A Rotten Ending
Your completed jack-o’-lantern will last longer if you dip it in an ice bath with a cup of bleach. And rub petroleum jelly on the edges of the cutouts to seal in moisture.
But don’t get too attached to your Halloween handiwork. Ultimately it’ll rot away, get eaten by squirrels, or be smashed to pieces by an angsty trick-or-treating youth. So is life.
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Halloween is my favorite holiday as the leaves changes colors and the festive spirit is in the full swing. Head over to your local pumpkin patch.
This is the best time to carve a pumpkin.
Pumpkin carving is always a fun activity during Halloween as being part of Halloween tradition. I love the classic jack-o’-lantern style pumpkin carving.
In my opinion, what makes pumpkin carving so special is your creativity. You can take inspirations from Pinterest then create your own designs and patterns.
When you purchase the pumpkins from the local farmer’s market your mind starts thinking about the patterns. Creating dots with the driller, cookie-cutter design, Jack skellington, and tons of creative ideas using stencils.
Here I’ll share some of my tips and tricks to make your pumpkin carving easy and helpful with this step by step guide.
How to Select The Best Pumpkin – Buying Guide
Buy your pumpkin 5-6 days before Halloween, so that your pumpkins last longer and there is less chance of getting pumpkins rotten.
Criteria to select a good quality pumpkin
- Try to find a pumpkin that doesn’t have any cut, dent, or damaged part on it.
- The color should be consistent on all sides.
- make sure it has a sturdy stem.
- Select a mix of a few large, medium, and small pumpkins.
How to Carve a Pumpkin – Easy Steps by Step Guide
1. Before start carving, I’d suggest getting the drawing stencils for pumpkin carving. These are reusable templets that will make your carving job very easy and you also get tons of design ideas for the jack-o’-lantern. You can also look over Google images for inspirational pumpkin carving designs.
2. You can start carving the pumpkin lid from the top but I’d recommend cutting from the bottom because it gives a good finishing from the top and no one can see the cut at the bottom.
3. Scoop out all the seeds and pulp from the pumpkin. Scrap the inside wall of the pumpkin to reduce the thickness this will make the carving lot easier.
4. Now put the stencil design over the pumpkin and start carving. If you don’t have a stencil, simply take a pencil and draw the eyes, nose, and mouth pattern and start carving over the lines. cut out the eyes, nose, and mouth with the mini saw from the kit.
5. Once you finished carving the design, clean up the surface, and wipe off any pencil mark over the pumpkin.
Pro tip: Make sure to rub Vaseline or petroleum jelly over the carved pumpkin, it will help retaining the moisture and your pumpkin will last longer.
6. Put a tea light candle inside the carved pumpkin.
If you enjoyed this post or want to save it for your inspirations, please pin it on Halloween board on your Pinterest.
Every Halloween my kids beg to carve pumpkins and every year I absolutely dread it! Trying to cut through a big thick pumpkin with a teeny tiny bendy knife at the speed of a snail drives me absolutely nuts. Thankfully my husband loves to carve pumpkins. But over the years, as our family life has gotten busier, and one carved pumpkin will no longer suffice our two kids, we both have started to not enjoy carving pumpkins as much as we used to. Thankfully, this year, I have a solution! I have finally figured out how to carve a pumpkin in 15 minutes, or less! From start to finish. No joke. Seriously!
Now this pumpkin won’t win any pumpkin carving contests as far as creativity goes, but that is not my goal. My goal is to have a lighted pumpkin on my front porch on Halloween night for my children to enjoy. And this pumpkin certainly gets the job done and done quickly!
How to Carve a Pumpkin in 15 Minutes
I chose a medium sized pumpkin for this project. If you choose a really large one, it may take a bit more time to clean out the inside. But for my pumpkin, start to finish, took 15 minutes: tops.
Check out this super short video (about 20 seconds) to show you really how quick and simple it was to carve a pumpkin!
Isn’t that amazing!? Seriously, my pumpkin-carving life is forever changed! I will be carving my pumpkin every year with power tools like this Rockwell Sonicrafter F30! It was so fast and so simple! And it really turned out quite well.
Rockwell sent me this Sonicrafter F30 for purposes of this blog post, and the best news is is that I get to give one away to you today too! Woot woot!
The Sonicrafter F30 is a corded multi-tool that is perfect for all sorts of DIY projects. It accepts other brands of accessories and has variable speed control. And even if you don’t do a lot of DIY projects, this is perfect for carving your Halloween pumpkin!
And the best part is is that you can enter to WIN a Rockwell Sonicrafter F30 today! Woot Woot!
So just want until the Rafflecopter fully loads and then enter to win!