Learn How to Etch a Pumpkin for Halloween
Etching is a simple pumpkin carving technique that removes only the outer layer of pumpkin skin. Here’s how to master the skill.
Carving traditional jack-o'-lanterns is an iconic part of Halloween, but we're always looking for unique pumpkin decorating ideas. This year, skip carving altogether and craft a collection of Halloween pumpkins featuring etched and scraped designs. Instead of cutting completely through the pumpkin, etching uses shallow scrapes to remove the outer layer of pumpkin skin. The process allows for more precise detail than fully carving through a pumpkin, and will also keep the pumpkin looking fresh longer than if you carve it all the way through. Intricate designs, like fall leaves and flowers, are a great way to showcase etched designs. Browse our collection of pumpkin stencils to get started (we love the details etching adds to our collection of dog breed pumpkin stencils.) Or use the technique to add dimension to this adorable owl pumpkin carving. Finish your etched pumpkin with a battery-operated tea light so it glows from the inside out!
How to Etch a Pumpkin
- Real or faux pumpkin
- Printed pumpkin stencil
- Straight pins
- Washable marker
- Wood carving gouge or rotary tool
- Crafts knife
- Battery-operated tea light
Step 1: Prep the Pumpkin
If you'd like to place a candle inside the pumpkin, you'll need to cut a hole in the bottom (not the top!) and clean out the insides. Leaving the top and stem intact slows decay and helps make your pumpkin look professional. In addition to cleaning out the seeds and strings, scrape away at least 1/2 inch of flesh from inside the pumpkin. This allows more light to glow through the etched areas. Print and cut out your pumpkin stencil. Use straight pins ($2, Hobby Lobby) to attach the stencil to the pumpkin. For larger shapes, trace with a washable marker. For finer shapes, use a pin to poke holes through the stencil to create an outline.
Editor's Tip: You can etch designs into lasting faux pumpkins. You'll want to make sure you purchase an artificial pumpkin that's designed to be carved, like these plastic Halloween pumpkins ($12, Target).
Step 2: Etch the Design
For precise etching, use thin sharp blades. Wood carving gouges ($30, The Home Depot) and a crafts knife are the best tools. Use a gouge or rotary tool ($50, The Home Depot) to etch large sections. A crafts knife works best to outline and cut out fine details. Create a scratchy texture by roughly scraping a gouge across pumpkin flesh. For smooth areas, lightly drag the blade lengthwise across the area, keeping strokes in the same direction.
Step 3: Finish and Display
Clean up any rough edges with carving tools and brush away any excess pumpkin skin. Wipe the finished design clean with a damp cloth and let dry completely. To help your pumpkin last longer, rub petroleum jelly ($2, Target) around all the etched areas of the pumpkin. Once complete, place a battery-operated tea light in the bottom of the pumpkin and display.