Pumpkin Carving Tips

Step 1: Selecting the perfect pumpkin

The first secret to carving the perfect pumpkin is to select the right pumpkin. Select an unbruised pumpkin, inspecting it for soft spots, discoloration, and cuts or knicks.

Pumpkins that sit flat work the best. Select the shape of a pumpkin according to what type of face you want to carve. Look for pumpkins with sturdy stems, being the sign of a healthy pumpkin. Don't lift pumpkins by the stem! This can cause the stem to break and decrease the life of your pumpkin.

Step 2: Gather your tools

Essential items for carving are the saw, drill (or something to poke a hole), pokers, scrapers, knives, pins or thumbtacks, and tape. Carving kits can be found in our store that have everything you need to carve a pumpkin.

Different size saws are available depending on the detail of your pattern. Smaller saws work good for detailed areas while large saws work best for larger areas with less detail.

Your scraper is used to smooth out the inside walls of the pumpkin to help reflect the light out of where you carved.

Pokers, like mini spurs, help you transfer your pattern to your pumpkin. They leave small indentations in the skin of your pumpkin when you roll them over your pattern.

Step 3: Preparing the pumpkin for carving

You will start by cutting the lid off your pumpkin. Not all pumpkins have to have lids. You could cut out the back or the bottom as well. If you are going to have a candle, be sure there is plenty of ventilation. The lid might get scorched as well, so you might consider not putting the lid back on.

Select your big saw or knife. You will make a cone shaped cut around the stem to keep the lid from falling in.

Scrape out all the guts and seeds. Toss the guts and save the seeds. Visit our recipes page for great pumpkin seed recipes. The wall of the front of the pumpkin should be no more than one inch thick to make carving easier. If it's too thin, your pumpkin will dry up and shrivel.

Step 4: Selecting your pattern

Your pattern should be about as large as the face of your pumpkin. The enlarge or reduce functions on a copy machine work great if you already have a pattern printed out.

Looking for pre-made patterns? Here are some great links to a few sites.

You can also create your own patterns if you would like. There are plenty of resources on the net that show you how to do this.

Take your printed pattern and tape it to the front face of your pumpkin. You may need to cut slits in the paper to make the flat sheet fit around a curved pumpkin. Use your poker and poke holes 1/4 - 1/8 inch apart along your patterns design lines. The more holes you poke, the easier it will be to cut out the pieces. Spreading flour, baking soda (NOT baking powder), corn starch, or ground chalk over your holes will make them easier to see. Use a dull pencil to connect the dots of the pieces that should be connected.

As you peel back your pattern, it sometimes helps to mark the dead areas of you pattern with a marker (the parts that are to be removed).

Don't throw your pattern away yet. It can be a useful reference to use while you carve. You can always hold your pattern back up to the pumpkin as a guide.

Step 5: Carving

Hold the pumpkin firmly in your lap or on a sturdy table. Drill holes in each of the dead areas to give you a place to start your saw.

Use your saw as a saw and not a knife. Work it slowly and gently following your guide lines. The key to a stunning pumpkin is to take your time and work carefully. Several smaller cuts are better than one larger cut.

Hold your saw like a pencil and slowly work it back and forth, going dot to dot. Don't force the saw. Small saws can bend and break, easily damaging your pumpkin. A detailed design can take hours to complete. If your hands get tired, take a break and come back to it later.

Rotate the pumpkin so that you are always carving at a 90 degree angle into the pumpkin. Your saw should always be perpendicular to the surface of the pumpkin, and it should always be on a line to the center of the pumpkin.

Remove pieces carefully with your fingers. If a piece won't come out, cut it into smaller sections.

Start at the center and work your way out. Cut out the smaller pieces first, saving the larger pieces for last as they add strength to the face making it easier to work on the small parts.

Tips to help preserve your pumpkin carving

Put the pumpkin in a tub full of cold water, carved side down, for several hours or overnight. The pumpkin will absorb some of the water firming it up. A small amount of bleach in the water will kill off any bad pumpkin germs and help prevent the pumpkin from molding.

For longer storage, rub a little petroleum jelly on the cut edges. This helps prevent water from getting out keeping your pumpkin from shriveling.

You can also periodically mist your plants with a spray bottle full of water. Put it in a plastic bag, and put it in the refrigerator for longer storage.

Lighting your pumpkin

A Small light bulb, 40 watts or less, on an electric cord work well to light up you pumpkin, but you will have a cord running out of your pumpkin. You can find small battery powered LED lights that come in multiple colors and have other effects such as rainbow colors or flashing. You can find a selection of these in our Halloween store.

If you use a battery powered LED light, it is important that you scrape the back of your pumpkin smooth for best light reflection. For different effects, you can put aluminum foil or Mylar from an old balloon on the rear wall for a metallic look. Different colored tissue papers or wax paper can be placed behind the cut out parts of your pumpkin and held in place with tooth picks. Don't use tissue paper or Mylar if you are using a candle, and be careful with aluminum foil as it might get very hot.