Carving a Pumpkin

Bored out of your gourd carving the same old jack-o'-lantern year after year? If you dare, take a look into the eerie eyes and wicked grins of the pumpkin faces in this section. We'll show you how to carve a pumpkin from start to finish.

Choosing a Pumpkin

Try It!

Choosing the perfect pumpkin will depend on the design you wish to carve, but there are several things to look for. Make sure the pumpkin is fresh. It should be firm, not soft, and free of rot, mold, and bruises.


If you have your heart set on a particular pumpkin but there is a scratch or imperfection, position the design so you cut away the damaged part.

The front of the pumpkin should be as smooth as possible to make it easy to transfer the carving pattern to the pumpkin.


Preparation

Wash the pumpkin in soap and water to remove any soil.

Decide whether you want to cut a lid on top or a hole in the bottom of the pumpkin.

When cutting a lid, don't cut a circle; it will be nearly impossible to line up the lid when you want to replace it. Instead, cut a pentagon (5 sides) or hexagon (6 sides).

Using a saw or knife with a serrated blade, cut at an angle (point the knife to the middle of the pumpkin) so the lid does not fall into the pumpkin.

An adult should always cut the pumpkin; it is too dangerous for children.

Cut a pentagon into the lid so it doesn't fall through the pumpkin.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Cut a pentagon into the lid so it
doesn't fall through the pumpkin.

Cutting a hole in the bottom of the pumpkin is a great way to straighten a crooked pumpkin. Set the pumpkin on top of an empty coffee can or cooking pot (depending on pumpkin size).

Set the pumpkin on a cooking pot before cutting the bottom of a crooked pumpkin.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Set the pumpkin on a cooking pot
before cutting the bottom
of a crooked pumpkin.

Position the pumpkin so it sits the way you want it to, then use a pen or marker to trace the top of the can or pot on the bottom of the pumpkin. Cut along the line with the saw or knife, and discard the bottom.

It's time to dig in and get messy! Reach in and comb through the "strings" with your fingers, removing the seeds. Set them aside for roasting later. When you've removed all the seeds, scrape the bottom and sides of the pumpkin with a large spoon or pumpkin scraper. Scrape the inside front of the pumpkin (where the design will be) until the wall is 1 inch thick or less.


Designs and Patterns

The design you carve into your jack-o'-lantern can be simple or fancy, but it will be easier if you first work out the design on paper. Use the enlargement guide to figure out how big to make the pattern.

Trim the excess paper from the pattern. Dry the pumpkin, then position the pattern with masking or painter's tape. Use a pushpin, nail, or ballpoint pen to trace the outline of the pattern by poking small holes through the paper and the pumpkin skin. The closer the holes, the finer the detail you can achieve.

Trace the outline of the pattern by poking small holes into the pumpkin.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Trace the outline of the pattern by
poking small holes into the pumpkin.

When you have finished poking the holes, remove the pattern and set it aside for reference. To better see the design, rub flour into the holes or use a pen or marker to "connect the dots."

Use a pen to connect the dots when carving a pumpkin.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Use a pen to connect the dots.

Carving

Never let a child use a knife to carve a pumpkin. Pumpkin-carving tools, which are small saw blades with handles, are inexpensive and available at most drug and discount stores. They are great for kids.

Adults may choose to use knives when carving. Good knife choices include a paring knife and a fish-boning knife. Make sure the knives are sharp; this will give you more control and make cutting easier.

Hold the tool in your hand so you have adequate leverage. Press the tip of the tool straight into the pumpkin at a pattern line. Plunge the tool up and down in a "sewing machine" motion. Let the tool do the work. Be careful as you cut, and take your time.

Carve pumpkin with a sewing machine motion.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Carve pumpkin with a
sewing machine motion.

Work on the design one section at a time. Carve sections in the center of the design first, and work your way out. To turn sharp corners, don't twist the blade. Pull out the tool, and reinsert it from the other direction. When you have finished a section, leave the scraps in place until you have carved the entire design.

Caution!
Real flames cannot be used to light artificial pumpkins. Instead, use battery-powered utility lights, which can be found at drug and discount stores. Never leave a pumpkin with a lit candle unattended, especially around children.

The best way to light a jack-o'-lantern is with a candle. This gives the pumpkin a warm color, and the flame's natural flicker gives it the traditional look.

When you are done carving, push the pieces out from the inside with your fingers. Cut large or complicated pieces into smaller pieces so they are easier to remove.

Lighting

The best way to light a jack-o'-lantern is with a candle. This gives the pumpkin a warm color, and the flame's natural flicker gives it the traditional look.

Longevity

If you take care of your jack-o'-lantern, you can increase its life span. Rub petroleum jelly on cut edges to keep them from drying out. When using a candle, cut a small hole in the top of the pumpkin to act as a chimney to vent the heat.

Limit the amount of time you display and light your pumpkin. When not displaying it, place the jack-o'-lantern in a plastic bag and store it in the refrigerator. To bring a shriveled pumpkin back to life, soak it in a tub of cold water overnight.

Carving Artificial Pumpkins

The techniques for carving an artificial pumpkin are the same as for real pumpkins, but several precautions must be taken:

  1. To prevent the risk of fire, never use candles or high-wattage lightbulbs to light artificial pumpkins.

  2. The extreme differences in wall thickness (from 3/8 to 1-1/4 inches) within a single pumpkin require a great deal of experience and patience to carve intricate designs.

  3. Polyurethane dust is generated by carving artificial pumpkins. Small children and pets should be kept away from the carving area to prevent ingestion.

  4. At ten times the price of natural pumpkins, a mistake can be costly. Natural pumpkins are a good choice for families. But if you want to create a special pumpkin that you can bring out year after year, an artificial pumpkin is just right for you.
Enlargement Guide

Measure the pumpkin's face (where you will place the design), then find the corresponding percentage on the chart below. Key in that percentage when you photocopy the pattern. You may need to adjust the percentage to fit your particular pumpkin.
Pumpkin Size
Enlargement Needed
6-inch
200%
7-inch
233%
8-inch
266%
9-inch
300%
10-inch
333%
11-inch
366%
12-inch
400%
13-inch
433%
14-inch  
466%
15-inch  
500%

Frightening Fun

Spine-tingling delights are in store for you with these gruesomely ghastly pumpkin carvings.
The patterns are hyperlinked PDFs that you can download and print out. The patterns need to be enlarged on a copier to match the size of your pumpkin. Match the size of the pumpkin with the enlargement guide above. 

Howlin' Wolf, Glare Scare, and and Eye See You scary pumpkin designs.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Howlin' Wolf, Glare Scare,
and Eye See You scary pumpkin designs.

Howlin' Wolf
  1. Carve the nose. If the scrap pieces aren't easy to push out, cut them into smaller pieces to remove.

  2. Carve the mouth, being careful not to cut off the teeth.

  3. Carve the ears, top of the head, and jowls. To simplify, create the features by cutting zigzag lines and leaving scraps in place. The light from the inside will still shine through the cuts.
Glare Scare
  1. Carve the eyes, the eyebrows, and then the nose.

  2. Carve the smaller teeth. Finish by cutting the large fangs.
Eye See You
  1. Drill holes for the center of the eyes (or push a pen or pencil into the pumpkin to create the holes). Carve the rest of the eyes and the bottom lashes.

  2. 2 Carve the top eyelashes starting at the center and working out.
Funny Faces

These happy faces are just right for the younger set or for those adults who like to keep things
on the light side.
The patterns are hyperlinked PDFs that you can download and print out.

Traditional Jack, Smilin' John, and Big Tooth Magee funny pumpkin designs.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Traditional Jack, Smilin' John, and
Big Tooth Magee funny pumpkin designs.

Traditional Jack
  1. Carve the nose.

  2. Carve the remaining features. Customize the design by adding or deleting teeth. To simplify, omit the teeth and the irises in the eyes.
Smilin' John
  1. Carve the eyes and nose.

  2. Carve the mouth and chin. Be careful not to make the connection for the tongue too thin.

  3. Carve the eyebrows.
Big Tooth Magee
  1. Carve the eyes and nose.

  2. When carving the teeth, work from the top down. Be careful not to make the connections between the teeth too thin.

  3. Carve the brow.
Baking the Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin-seed baking is one of the joys of Halloween. Any one of these funky flavor twists on a regular pumpkin seed recipe could wake the dead.

Once you've carved the Jack-O'Lantern, use our gourmet pumpkin seeds recipe to bake spicy, sweet, or cheesy pumpkin seeds.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Once you've carved the Jack-O'Lantern,
bake the pumpkin seeds.

Pumpkin Seeds

Preheat oven to 350
°F. Separate the pumpkin seeds from the fibers. Wash, drain, and dry the seeds on paper towels. Coat 1-1/2 cups seeds with 1 teaspoon vegetable oil. Toss the seeds with salt (or omit salt and toss seeds with any of the suggested seasonings below), and spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake, stirring occasionally, 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Deviled Pumpkin Seeds

Add 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce and 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chili pepper.

Sugar and Spice Pumpkin Seeds

Add 1 tablespoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice.

Cheesy Seeds

Add 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese and 1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

You can carve your pumpkin to fit the theme of your Halloween party. Learn how to throw a spirited informal family gathering in the next section.