Halloween Pumpkin-Carving Basics

Cordless drill
Take Halloween pumpkin carving to a new level this year with our tips, tricks, and tools. Learn techniques to carve, sculpt, and decorate your jack-o'-lanterns.

Prep Your Pumpkin

Display the best jack-o'-lanterns in the neighborhood this year. Start by clicking through this slideshow to see easy-to-master pumpkin carving techniques, followed by the tools you'll need for the techniques.

Before you get carried away cutting, take care to prepare your pumpkin. Start with a room-temperature pumpkin. Draw a circle around the stem and cut around it to create a pumpkin lid. Next, dig in and scoop out the pulp and seeds with a large spoon. Then scrape the inner walls of the pumpkin until they are no more than 1-inch thick, which will make carving easier.

Next: Tools to Use

Precarving Prep: Tools

Use a keyhole saw (bottom tool in photo) to cut around the pumpkin stem. The long blade smoothly saws through the tough pumpkin. Clay modeling tools (top and middle) are great for whittling down the inside walls. They work like a potato peeler, but the flexible wires contour to the concave interior of the pumpkin. Find the saw at a home improvement store and the clay modeling tools at an art store.

Plan It Out

Working with a pattern? Scale it to fit the size of your pumpkin by using a photocopier to enlarge or shrink the design. Tape or pin the pattern on the pumpkin in the desired spot, then use a tracing wheel, awl, or pin to transfer the pattern.

Next: Tools to Use

Plan It Out: Tools

A tracing tool (top) is equipped with a spiked wheel and works like a pizza cutter. The spikes will make gouges in the pumpkin skin, creating the design. Awls or ceramic tools also work well for transferring a design, especially on smaller details. Gently push the point of the tool into the surface to outline the design. Be careful not to poke through the wall of the pumpkin and keep the holes about 1/8 inch apart.

Learn how to carve a pumpkin! Our easy tutorial takes you through the clean-out and the carving, with time-tested tips on using pumpkin stencils.

Video: How to Carve a Pumpkin

Learn the best way to carve a pumpkin with these easy tips.

Shape Cutouts

Shape cutouts are a jack-o'-lantern trademark. Step up the basic technique and carve out spiders, ghosts, and other Halloween emblems. For precise cutouts, place the pumpkin in your lap, using one hand to anchor it and the other to carve. The trick is to go slow and use gentle pressure while cutting.

Next: Tools to Use

Shape Cutouts: Tools

For basic carving, use a crafts tool (top) with a long blade. When carving more intricate details, rely on a fine-tooth saw (middle and bottom) for an accurate cut. Hold the saw in your hand like a pencil. Saw around the design using an in-and-out motion, keeping the saw perpendicular to the pumpkin. For best results, start in the center and work outward on larger designs.

Polka-Dot Pumpkin

Grab a melon baller from your kitchen utility drawer and start scooping. Use the tool to create rounded depressions in the pumpkin skin. A light inside the pumpkin will gently illuminate the scooped out areas.

Next: Tool to Use

Polka-Dot Pumpkin: Tool

Gently press the edge of the melon baller into the skin, just breaking the surface, to create a circle. Then press the baller into the circle to scoop out the pulp. Look for a melon baller with two ends to create two different-size circles.

More Polka-Dot Fun

Look in your kitchen utility drawer again and dig out an apple corer. The rounded end of the tool can be used to cut out perfectly shaped circles for eyes or spotted designs like the one shown here. Simply push the sharp end of the corer all the way through the pumpkin wall. Because the holes go all the way through, the light that shines through will be more dramatic than in the melon-baller design.

Next: Tools to Use

More Polka-Dot Fun: Tools

An apple corer works well for making holes in a pumpkin because it often has a gripper handle, making it easier to push through the pumpkin skin. A pottery tool (available at art stores) can craft smaller holes. The scooped end helps create a circular shape.

Surface Carving

Gouges, used in wood carving, also are perfect for pumpkins. Press the edge of the gouge gently into the skin and guide it along a design. The final result is a reversed relief effect. A light inside the pumpkin will gently illuminate the gouged areas.

Next: Tools to Use

Surface Carving: Tools

Vary your carving widths with different-size gouges. Simply unscrew one gouge from the handle and put in another, or buy a set of gouges that have their own handles. Pick up gouges at an art or woodworking store.

Surface Carving, Take 2

For a bigger and bolder design, such as this diamond pattern, use the widest gouge you can find. Digging deeper into the pumpkin will allow more light to shine through, as will creating a bigger pattern.

Next: Tools to Use

Surface Carving, Take 2: Tools

You can gouge out larger areas with a smaller gouge head, but using a wider one is more efficient because you can take off more pumpkin skin at a time.

Cookie Cutter Designs

Designed to turn ordinary dough into fun shapes, cookie cutters also can add a unique look to a basic pumpkin. Look at garage sales and specialty kitchen stores for sturdy cookie cutters.

Next: Tools to Use

Cookie Cutter Designs: Tools

Cookie cutters can help speed up carving time because they eliminate time-consuming sawing. To create a design, position the sharp edge of the cookie cutter on the pumpkin. Use a hammer or mallet to carefully pound it into the pumpkin. Tap the edges evenly to create a precise cut, and keep pounding until the cookie cutter is completely through the pumpkin wall.

Drilling for Pumpkins

A power drill is another quick and easy way to make perfectly round holes in a pumpkin. Drill holes along the pumpkin veins (or make your own design). Another idea? Put a string of Christmas lights inside the pumpkin and poke the bulbs through the holes.

Next: Tools to Use

Drilling for Pumpkins: Tools

Equip yourself with a basic power drill and drill bits in various sizes. Each drill bit will produce a different-size hole.

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