How to Carve a Pumpkin Like a Pro
Pumpkin carving is at the center of all our Halloween celebrations. It’s not just the kids that love it, the grown-ups get stuck in too! A jack o lantern will look amazing on any front porch or living room.
To achieve an impressive carved pumpkin, there are several steps that you will need to follow. You will need to obtain a suitable pumpkin, prepare a clean workspace, trace or draft the design and collect together the right tools for the job. Don’t forget that young children cannot use sharp knives and that older children will need to be supervised. To make sure that the pumpkin carving goes smoothly in your house this Halloween, follow our guide on how to carve a pumpkin like a pro.
Finding Your Pumpkin
The best time to buy a pumpkin is a few days before Halloween. It can be tempting to buy one in early October but most pumpkins will start to rot within a week or two. You can get them at dedicated pumpkin patches, farmers’ markets and from supermarkets. You are looking for a store that has fresh pumpkins in a range of sizes. Pumpkin patches are great fun if you have young children but supermarkets are most convenient.
Pick a pumpkin that has an even color, no bruises or cuts and has a thick stem that doesn’t bend. If you tap the skin, it should sound hollow. A pumpkin with a flat base is easier to display once it has been carved. Don’t worry about a bit of dirt – you can easily wash it.
Larger pumpkins are needed for elaborate jack o lantern designs but a small one is fine for basic pumpkin carving.
How to Carve a Face in a Pumpkin
You can choose any design for your jack o lantern but most kids want to know how to carve a face in a pumpkin. Choose a design that your child can realistically carve themselves. You can make one up yourself or there are loads of ideas online. Your local library may also have some books with suggested designs. You can draw the design by freehand or you can use a template. Young children do better with templates and are more pleased with the results!
The usual method will be to hollow out the pumpkin and carve right through the outer gourd. However, some people choose to just carve down to the pulp. This is best for daytime jack o lanterns that you are not going to light.
How to Carve a Pumpkin like a Pro – the Steps
- Setting up your work area
You will need a work area with plenty of space because there will be a lot of mess! A kitchen table is ideal but you may want to use some old newspapers or brown sacks to protect the floor.
You will need some pens for drawing the design (permanent markers or dry-erase markers which can be wiped off), some cutting tools and a large bowl for the discarded pumpkin flesh and seeds. You can also use kitchen knives for cutting the pumpkin and an x-acto knife is useful if you are just going to scratch away the pumpkin skin to reveal the pulp. The most effective pumpkin carving tools are serrated so a bread knife or jab saw are best. You could also use a paring knife or a fillet knife if you prefer a straight-edged blade. Purpose-made serrated pumpkin carving tools are often the best choice. You also need a large spoon or an ice cream scoop to scrape out the insides.
- Drawing the design and cutting
Wash the pumpkin if you need to and then trace or draw on the design. Young kids can get involved at this stage even if they cannot use a knife for the cutting stage.
Once you are happy with the design, you can cut the lid. Draw a circle with a two-inch radius from the stem and cut it out. As you cut, angle the knife point towards the center of the circle so that the lid will sit on the top and not fall through.
Now comes the messy bit! You need to use the spoon, scoop or your hands to remove the flesh and seeds and put them in a bowl. Make the inside as clean as you can.
The next stage is to carve your design following the pen marks. Cut into the pumpkin using a back and forth action but take your time using steady downward pressure. You could use a toothpick to push some sections out when you have carved all around them. Always take care when using a knife. Do not pull the knife towards your body and supervise children closely.
- Lighting up your jack o lantern
This can be done with a candle or tea light but remember to blow them out if you are leaving the house. Lit pumpkins need ventilation so make sure your design allows enough oxygen to reach the flame. Several large holes are usually sufficient but if this doesn’t work, cut a small vent in the lid.
You can also use an LED light, a flickering LED light or even a flashlight. These are safer options and allow you to leave the pumpkin unattended. They may be the best choice if you have young children.
Your lit pumpkin needs to be displayed in a safe area, away from flammable items. This means that you need to keep it away from hay bales, scarecrows or other Halloween decorations such as spooky spiders webs and streamers. Also, think about the safety of trick-or-treaters who are likely to have dangling costumes that can catch fire if they come into contact with a candle flame.
The Last Word
Pumpkin carving is all about having fun as a family. Turn it into an experience that your kids will love by taking them to select the pumpkin, choosing the design and scraping out the pumpkin ‘guts’. Some careful preparation should ensure that you carve those pumpkins like a pro!