I have to admit that as a child I never really enjoyed carving pumpkins. Using big kitchen knives was difficult, clumsy and dangerous, and frankly I’m surprised no one lost a finger. But several years ago I discovered the amazing and very safe serrated pumpkins saw. My life has never been the same, and I have come to truly love pumpkin carving season. So whether you like chic new designs or the classic Jack’O’Lantern, kick off your Halloween with a good carve. With a few simple tools and a little creativity, you can create original pumpkin carvings that will be the envy of your neighborhood.
Selecting Pumpkins for Carving
Getting the right pumpkin is an activity some have elevated to an almost mystical experience. Personally, I’m not as choosy and like the suprise element of the random grab-and-go. Either way you approach it, you’re looking for pumpkins that have solid feeling stems, no cracks, and have a flat side so they will sit up without rolling or falling. Also, make sure the pumpkin isn’t unnecessarily heavy and doesn’t make sloshing sounds when you move it.
A. Long-handled spoon (with an edge–metal is preferable)
B. Commercial pumpkin scraper
C. Serrated pumpkin saw
D. Linoleum cutter (optional)
As I said before, kitchen knives are a no-go. Not only are they dangerous, they’re surprisingly ineffective. Instead, go out and get a serrated pumpkin saw or two. They’re small, easy to maneuver and cut through pumpkin flesh like butter. Plus, it’s really hard to hurt yourself with one. Possible, but not easy.
You may also want to try doing some surface cutting on a pumpkin using a linoleum cutter. This is a cutting tool usually used for carving linoleum blocks for print and stamp making. When you use this tool, you hold it like a pencil and push the tip forward to scoop out a thin layer of pumpkin skin. Rest your pinky finger and the heel of your hand on the pumpkin for support. This can give you the control to execute more detailed carvings.
In addition, you will need:
- A couple of wet cloth rags (for wiping hands and pumpkins)
- A comfortable, mess-proof place to work (outside is always good)
- Large bowls for collecting pumpkin seeds and fiber
Cutting The Crown
Once you are ready to carve, the first step is to remove the crown. You want to angle this cut slightly through the pumpkin so that your crown doesn’t fall in when you put it back on. The shape is an artistic choice ranging from starbursts to flowers to clouds. I don’t recommend plan round because they are more difficult to prop open when the pumpkin is lit. Also make sure you cut a hole big enough to get your hand and scraper through, because if you have to make it bigger, your cap won’t fit anymore.
After the crown is cut but before pulling off the cap, make sure to carve a notch or other shape across the line to create a reference for realigning the cap when you want to put it back on. I usually use a pointed oval.
Pull the crown off and use the metal spoon to cut the fibers and seeds off of it. Set it aside. Things are about to get messy.
Cleaning and Scraping
Once the crown is cut and the cap cleaned and set aside, it’s time to clean the pumpkin. Start with the long handled spoon and use the edge to scrape and scoop out the bulk of the seeds and fiber.
Once you get most of it out, switch to the commercial pumpkin scraper. How much time you spend on this depends on your patience and carving needs. For surface-cut pumpkins in particular, you need a good thin wall for the light to shine through; about an inch is good. Also make sure to scrape a flat spot in the bottom if you need somewhere to set a light for your pumpkin.
Choosing A Design
Most people find this to be the most fun of the pumpkin carving process. There are many patterns and ideas out there, including our own Pumpkin Carving Idea File. Whatever you choose, make it your own. Get the inspiration and then execute it in your own, personal way.
How you carve will depend on your preferences and your design, but ther are several tips that are universally useful:
- Rotate the pumpkin as needed to put the surface you are working at facing upward
- When using the saw, make sure to keep it at a 90 degree angle to the pumpkin surface
- When using the linoleum cutter, always push the tool AWAY from yourself (or other people or body parts)
- When surface carving a pumpkin, consider including some traditional carving as well to add ventilation
- Don’t forget the back! Carved designs on the back throw interesting patterns of light onto walls
- Test the pumpkin with a flashlight in a dark room to see if your design is working, or with etched pumpkins, if the pumpkin wall is thin enough.
- Wipe the outside of your pumpkin with a wet cloth to clean extra debris before display
Preserving Your Pumpkin
For most people, just keeping the pumpkin outside should keep it fresh for a week or so. If you live in a very warm or dry area or need to keep your pumpkin longer, you will need to take extra measures, such as:
- Soak the pumpkin in cold water
- Store the pumpkin in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic wrap
- After soaking or storing a pumpkin, dry before displaying to prevent mold
- Rub petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline) over all of the cut edges of the pumpkin
- Mist an on-display pumpkin with cold water regularly. Include a splash of bleach to prevent mold
Displaying Your Pumpkin
There are lots of ideas for displaying pumpkins: in urns, on porch steps, on fence posts, as table centerpieces. But most important is safety. Consider using an electric or battery operated light bulb to light your pumpkin. If you choose to use candles, make sure to use tea lights or other flat candles that are unlikely to tip over. Make sure to leave the cap off or turn it so it provides plenty of ventilation. And most importantly, don’t leave lit pumpkins unattended!
Now that you’re ready to carve, check out some of my Pumpkin Carving Design Ideas