How to Carve a Pumpkin That Looks Professional This Halloween

Get the scoop on how to carve the perfect pumpkin this Halloween. We're sharing our best tips and tricks for carving pumpkins with ease.

For many of us, it wouldn't be Halloween without a collection of carved pumpkins on the front porch. If you're new to pumpkin carving, don't worry! We'll show you how to carve a pumpkin step by step. Garden editor and pumpkin carving expert Scott Johnson weighs in with his easy tips for carving your best pumpkin. Learn how to choose the pumpkin most suited for your design, plus get our easiest tricks for removing the pumpkin's insides. Once you've picked your gourd, we'll show you how to make a carved pumpkin. Plus, we're also sharing our best hacks for making your carved Halloween pumpkins last longer. You'll need just a few inexpensive tools to get started.

How to Carve a Pumpkin

Supplies Needed

  • Pumpkin
  • Metal ice scoop
  • Printed template
  • Washable markers
  • Pumpkin carving tool kit

Step-by-Step Directions

With a fresh or carvable faux pumpkin and these how-to instructions, you can create your own Halloween decoration. Customize your pumpkin with one of our free printable pumpkin stencils.

pile pumpkins
Matthew Benson

Step 1: Pick Your Pumpkin

Scott's first tip: Pick the best pumpkin for carving. Know how you want to design your jack-o'-lantern before picking your pumpkin so you know what size and shape to look for. ″If you're going to do more detailed carving, it's often easier to carve if you pick a pumpkin with a flatter surface," Scott says. Keep it simple—you don't have to hit the pumpkin patch to find a great gourd. Swing by a grocery or department store for a wide variety of pumpkins waiting to be carved. Avoid pumpkins with surface rotting or soft spots. But don't be scared if they're dirty, as long as the pumpkins are firm and have solidly attached stems you're good to go.

How to clean out a pumpkin, scoop out the insides of a pumpkin
Brie Passano

Step 2: Clean and Cut

Don't make the cut—yet. Wait to carve your pumpkin until two or three days before Halloween. Pumpkins soften quickly, so once you carve them, you'll only have a few days to enjoy your creation. If you can, display your pumpkins whole and carve them a day or two before your Halloween party or trick-or-treating night.

When you're ready to carve, rinse off the pumpkin and use a sturdy knife to cut an opening in the top or bottom. Scott recommends cutting a round opening with a triangular notch if you go for the top. "Without a notch, it can be hard to fit the lid back in when you're done," Scott says. Then, start scraping. Use a large metal ice scoop or cooking spoon to clean out your pumpkin. Scott also recommends that this step take place in the kitchen sink for quick and easy cleanup—no more soggy newspapers! Just remember, don't put the pulp in your garbage disposal.

How to outline a pumpkin stencil on a jack-o-lantern
Brie Passano

Step 3: Outline Your Design

To freehand a design on your pumpkin, use washable markers ($3, Target) to draw the design directly onto the pumpkin. When you're done carving, you'll be able to easily wash off the remaining marks with a damp cloth. Or, use a sharp utensil from a pumpkin carving tool kit to poke holes in a paper pumpkin carving stencil to outline the shapes. If you don't have a poking tool from a pumpkin carving set, you can use a nail or a thumbtack.

Carving a pumpkin jack-o-lantern face
Brie Passano

Step 4: Get Carving

For a classic Halloween jack-o'-lantern, a store-bought kit isn't necessary (but it can be helpful). Instead of the carving kit knife, you can actually use a long, thin kitchen knife to carefully carve your pumpkin. If you're cutting simple shapes, Scott suggests pushing the pieces out from the inside; pushing them into the pumpkin can cause breaks and tears. To make perfectly round shapes, trying using an apple corer or drill to punch through the pumpkin's rind. Even simple designs can be dazzling with some extra dimension; to etch the Halloween pumpkin, simply scrape the orange surface skin off for a different level of light. Now that you've mastered carving a pumpkin, try one of our free pumpkin stencils! We have all the pumpkin decorating ideas you need to create spooky or silly pumpkins, and even a pumpkin that looks just like your dog! Grab your carving tools and get started.

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