Pumpkin Carving Basics

Use our carving guide to create the best (and most frightening!) pumpkins this Halloween.


What You Need:

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  • Fresh or carvable artificial pumpkin
  • Tracing paper
  • Tape or straight pins
  • Tools: apple corer, paring knife, grapefruit spoon, mixing spoon, crafts knife, pumpkin carving tools (including assorted saws, drills, poker, and scoop), clay tools (for engraving and cutting grooves), wood-carving set (including gouges)
  • For fresh pumpkins only: petroleum jelly, flat-edge ice cream scoop or large serving spoon

How To Make It:

Prepare Fresh Pumpkins

  1. Allow your pumpkin to come to room temperature. Draw the outline of a six-sided lid on top of the pumpkin. Then draw a notch at the back to use as a guide for replacing the lid. Make the lid large enough to let you easily clean out the pumpkin. Instead of cutting a lid, you may wish to draw a round opening on the bottom of the pumpkin. With the bottom removed, the pumpkin can sit over a candle or a light.
  2. Cut out the lid or bottom opening with a saw or a knife. To cut out a lid, carve at an angle toward the pumpkin center. This creates a ledge to support the lid. To cut out a bottom opening cut straight into the base.
  3. Clean out the seeds and pulp with a spoon. Scrape the pulp from the area you plan to carve until the pumpkin wall is about 1 inch thick.
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Grab our exclusive pumpkin carving tools and more tips for creating the perfect jack-o'-lantern!

See more pumpkin carving tips.

General Instructions

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  1. Enlarge or decrease your pattern to fit your pumpkin. Attach the pattern to your pumpkin using tape or straight pins. If you use pins, place them on the design lines to avoid unwanted holes in the pumpkin.
  2. For a fresh pumpkin, use a poker tool to make holes along the design lines about 1/8 inch apart. Don't push the poker through the wall of the pumpkin. Remove the pattern, when finished.
  3. For an artificial pumpkin, use a pencil to draw firmly over the pattern and engrave the design lines on the pumpkin skin.
  4. Cradle the pumpkin in your lap, and use a crafts knife or a saw to begin cutting out the design. For smaller more intricate openings, be sure to use a fine-tooth saw. Grasp the saw as you would hold a pencil and cut with a continuous up-and-down motion, keeping the saw perpendicular to the pumpkin.
  5. Apply only gentle pressure to avoid breaking the knife or saw blade and to guard against stressing or breaking the pumpkin. To avoid putting pressure on carved areas, work from the center of the design outward. Remove and reinsert the knife to make corners; don't twist the blade. Use your finger to carefully push the pieces out of the pumpkin.
  6. To create an interesting design with color and light, remove the skin of the pumpkin after cutting out all openings. Use a rounded gouge, assorted clay tools, grapefruit spoon, or crafts knife to remove the skin and pulp to the thickness desired.
  7. Use an electric or battery-powered light in an artificial pumpkin; do not use a candle. To use a candle inside a fresh pumpkin, place the candle inside and carefully light it after all carving is completed.
  8. After the candle smoke has blackened a spot on the lid or the top, use a saw to cut a 1-inch-diameter hole at that spot for a chimney.
  9. To reduce shriveling, coat the cut edges of your carving with petroleum jelly. You can revive a shriveled pumpkin by soaking it in water for 1-8 hours. After removing it from the water, let it drain and dry it carefully.
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