11 Tips for Carving Expressive Pumpkins

Potter Steve Steininger creates fiendish jack-o'-lanterns with a special carving technique that penetrates only the surface of a pumpkin's skin -- which allows the thin rind to cast a soft, eerie glow when light shines from behind. Learn how to create these spirited pumpkins using nothing more than your imagination and a crafts knife.


  1. Study faces, primitive sculptures, and masks for inspiration. The best faces are those with distinct features that lend themselves to caricatures.
  2. Choose a 10-pound pumpkin, because they're easy to grip between the knees and roll around in your lap while you carve. Steininger's faces usually extend around half of the pumpkin.
  3. Cut slices off the bottom of the pumpkin until it sits level, using a kitchen butcher knife.
  4. Hollow out the pumpkin from the bottom, using a large metal spoon or ice-cream scoop. (Pumpkins last longer with the moisture removed.) This means the curly stems remain intact, making each pumpkin face unique.
  5. Decide which angle offers the best view of the stem. That's the side you should use to carve the face.
  6. Use a crafts knife to gouge V-shape, beveled pieces from the pumpkin's surface, then pop out the pieces. Do not cut all the way through.
  7. Start with the eyes. They're the "soul of the pumpkin," Steininger says. "They're the most important feature for creative scariness."
  8. Add the rest of the face, including wrinkles, wicked brows, a billowy nose, and a big mean mouth that screams with delight. Note: Steininger doesn't sketch before he cuts, but if you're looking for inspiration, check out Carve-a-Pumpkin for possible features.
  9. Finish the pumpkin with a quick, wet "wipe down."
  10. Insert Christmas lights, a lightbulb socket, or a battery-powered votive; these are safer and cast a cooler glow than traditional votives or candles.
  11. Keep your carved pumpkins chilled. The cooler you keep them, the longer they'll last. (Don't let them freeze, though, or they'll lose their shape.)

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