How to Carve a Sugar Skull Pumpkin

Yes, you could make a real sugar skull for the Day of the Dead—if you have a mold and 14+ hours of drying time! But we think our gorgeously creepy and free printable skull pumpkin carving stencil, with its intricate etching, makes an admirable substitute.

If you think this sugar skull pumpkin stencil design pops against an orange gourd, try carving it on a dappled-green or vivid red pumpkin! But if you're seeking a more authentic look, select a skull-like white or gray gourd: Luminas and Jarrahdales are good choices. We'll walk you through how to carve a sugar skull pumpkin including tips for creating the etched flowers and accents. Once you've mastered our carved pumpkin, try your hand at sugar skull pumpkin painting. Embellish the carving with colorful flowers, patterns, or keep it simple by tracing the outlines with paint. Did we mention our sugar skull pumpkin carving pattern is free? Just click below!

orange pumpkin with a sugar skull carved in the front of it, sitting on a halloween front porch with other small pumpkins
Carson Downing

How to Carve a Sugar Skull Pumpkin

Supplies Needed

  • Pumpkin, fresh or artificial
  • Printed free sugar skull pumpkin stencil
  • Large knife
  • Scraper tool
  • Pin tool
  • Etching tool or chisel
  • Serrated pumpkin carving knife
  • Battery-operated tea light candle

Step-by-Step Directions

With a few supplies and these how-to instructions, you can create your own carved skull pumpkin. Customize your Halloween sugar skull pumpkin with paint or a faux flower crown.

Step 1: Prep the Pumpkin

Start your sugar skull pumpkin carving by cleaning your pumpkin out from the bottom, not the top! If using a faux pumpkin, skip to step 2. Carve a large circle in the bottom of your pumpkin, ensuring the circle is wide enough for your hand and arm to fit comfortably through. Pry out the circle with your knife, and lop off the pulpy side, creating a level surface. Reach through the opening in the bottom of your pumpkin to dig out the innards, reserving the seeds to toast later as a snack if desired. With a scraper tool (included in the Messermeister 3-Piece Pumpkin Carving Set, $30, Williams Sonoma) or ice cream scoop (or your kids' hands), scrape the pumpkin's interior wall on the side you're intending to carve until it measures approximately 1-inch thick.

Step 2: Outline the Design

Smooth the printed sugar skull pumpkin stencil against your pumpkin's exterior, taping it in place as you smooth it down. Jab along all stencil lines with a pin tool, outlining the design with closely spaced pinholes. Carefully detach the sugar skull pattern, and keep the page handy for reference.

Sugar Skull Pumpkin Stencil

Step 3: Carve the Pumpkin Skull

Find pattern areas located within dotted lines, and etch these areas by using a power etching tool or a gouge to chisel away the pumpkin's top layer, uncovering the light color rind below. Find the sugar skull pumpkin template areas located within solid lines, and carve these areas by using a specialty pumpkin-carving knife or skinny, serrated woodcutting knife to cut completely through the pumpkin wall. (Hint: If desired, you can use a power drill to bore holes in the circular shape pattern areas; just select a bit that best matches the width of the desired hole.)

Step 4: Finish and Display

Display your fancy pumpkin carving for all to see! Set your leveled pumpkin circle where you wish to display your sugar skull pumpkin and rest a battery-operated tea light candle on the circle. Place your carved pumpkin over the candle, and enjoy the beautifully-eerie glow. To help your Halloween decoration last as long as possible, try some tips for keeping your carved pumpkins fresh.

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