How to Carve a Pumpkin for Halloween

Bottoms Up!


After meticulously carving a pumpkin, you’re always eager to bring your masterpiece to radiant life by placing a candle inside. But sticking a lit flame through the top of a jack-o’-lantern is no easy feat, and one wrong move can result in burnt fingers—ouch! The solution is surprisingly simple: Cut out the bottom of your pumpkin instead of the top. Set a lit candle atop the carved-out base, place the hollow gourd over the flame, and you’ll never again have to struggle with a match or lighter on Halloween night.  Related: 30 Easy Painted Pumpkins to Perk Up Your Halloween


Step 10. Light it up

Place your candle (or candles) into your pumpkin before lighting. If you don’t want to use votives, try Christmas lights, especially those that blink for a spooky appearance. Or, save yourself the stress and go with battery-operated votives instead.

Step five: Help your pumpkin last longer

Give your pumpkin a bath in a disinfectant solution. The simplest thing to do is just fill your kitchen sink with water and add a bit of bleach, and then submerge your pumpkin in the solution for a couple of minutes. This will help your pumpkin last longer, stopping the remaining flesh inside from rotting too quickly.

Ritterman opts for the bleach method also: ‘Once you have the initial carving, make sure to double back and smooth out any rough edges with a knife or sandpaper. Once you have the face done, make sure to dunk your pumpkin into a water and bleach mixture to make your pumpkin last all the way through Halloween, and use battery operated tea lights to not turn the inside of your pumpkin black.’

If you’d rather not use bleach, covering yours in petroleum jelly is also a good way to help it last. This is also a great hack to stop squirrels eating pumpkins

(Image credit: Unsplash/Kelly Sikkema)

Wipe Out


Skipping store-bought stencils in favor of freehanding your jack-o’-lantern design guarantees a one-of-a-kind creation. Before taking a knife to your squash, sketch your desired pattern with a dry-erase marker. Unlike permanent marker, it can be easily wiped away with a wet paper towel, giving you plenty of room for error. Related: Celebrate Fall with 11 Thrifty DIY Projects for the Home

Step one: Carve from the top at a 45-degree angle

Cut out the top section of your pumpkin. Don’t just slice it off, though: cut in at a 45-degree angle, using your pumpkin carving knife. You want the lid to be fairly small and neat.

Melissa Collins, Partnership Manager at Perfect Brew (opens in new tab) recommends, ‘To make the lid, draw a circle with a V-shaped notch on the rear. This notch will be used to guide you while replacing the lid.’

‘If you want to use your pumpkin to hold a candle, cut a hole in the bottom of it. Make sure the aperture is large enough to reach inside and scoop up the contents once it’s been sliced.’

‘When cutting a lid, slant the blade toward the pumpkin’s centre to create a ledge that will support the lid. If you’re going to cut a bottom, go straight through the pumpkin.’

(Image credit: Alice Day: Getty Images 688938389 )

Step 5. Sketch out your design on paper first

If you draw your jack-o’-lantern face to size, Natiello says you can use it as a pattern: Just tape it to the front of your pumpkin and use a fork or pencil to poke holes along the lines you want to carve. (Or save yourself from creative blocks by getting a pumpkin carving kit, complete with a marker, scraper, cutting tools and pre-made patterns.)

How to Carve a Pumpkin Step by Step

If you are wondering how to carve a pumpkin into a jack-o’-lantern, here’s what you need to know: Obviously, you need a pumpkin (see above) — plus you’ll need a couple of tools for cutting, scraping and carving. (You probably have some in your kitchen drawers that will work.)

Cutting/carving tools:

A sharp, sturdy, long-bladed knife and a sharp paring knife are serviceable carving tools for making a simple jack-o’-lantern. For fancier designs and easy pumpkin carving, you may want to invest in a few safer and more exact implements, such as tiny saws and an awl (for making holes to start sawing from).

A saw and awl combo also makes for safer fingers and is highly recommended for safe pumpkin carving with small children (saving both fingers and your nerves).

If you have an apple-corer, that works well for making round holes or rounding corners. Any chisels or carving tools you have for working with other materials can also be used (although they are not safe options for children) — just be sure to clean and dry the tools well after use to avoid rusting.

Once you learn the basics of how to carve a pumpkin, you may want to experiment with different tools. Pros even use an electric carving tool, such as a Dremel.

Scooping and scraping tools:

Scooping and scraping tools:

Your hand makes a good scoop for extracting the bulk of the seeds and the stringy fibrous goo, but to get out all the guts, you’ll probably want a scraper other than your fingernails. A tablespoon, soup spoon (the thinner the bowl the better, as the edge will be sharper) or a melon-baller make serviceable scrapers for getting the last of the stringy guts out of a pumpkin.

You can also buy specialized scrapers/scoops that have wide blades and short handles, which are easier to manipulate inside a pumpkin.

Now that you have your tools, here is, step by step, how to carve a pumpkin into a jack-o’-lantern:

Step 1. Cut into the pumpkin

Place your pumpkin on a solid surface you can wash (or spread newspaper to catch any drips). Draw the proposed cut on the skin with a felt tip marker: You want the hole large enough to get your fist through but no larger, as you want to keep as much of the pumpkin intact as possible so it will keep its shape for as long as possible.

Most pictures you see show a lid cut out from the

Most pictures you see show a lid cut out from the top and centered around the stem, and that’s fine. When you make the cut for a top opening and stemmed lid, angle the knife in toward the center of the opposite side of the pumpkin, rather than straight down, to create a rim for the lid to sit on. (If you cut straight down your lid will fall into the cavity when you put it back on.)

Let me tell you how to carve a pumpkin a better way: Make a straight-sided opening into the center of the bottom of the pumpkin. This has three advantages:

  1. You won’t have a lid to fall in as the pumpkin softens.
  2. Weeping liquids won’t build up in the carved pumpkin to attract insects and encourage spoilage.
  3. It will be much easier to light the jack-o’-lantern with a candle. (You just light the candle and then set the jack-o’-lantern down over the lighted candle, rather than fussing around inside your carved pumpkin with a match or lighter and ending up with singed fingers.)
Use a heavy knife with a sharp point or an awl and

Use a heavy knife with a sharp point or an awl and pumpkin saw to cut through the skin and flesh and into the seed cavity in the center of the pumpkin. Caution: Pumpkin skin is tough, and raw pumpkin flesh is hard!

Be very careful when working with a knife, as you will have to push hard, and it is easy to slip and cut too far (or yourself). Once you finish the cut, lift/pull the cut part out.

You may need to gently pry it out by inserting your sturdy knife (or a sturdy butter knife, if you’ve been cutting with a small saw) under one edge. Cut/scrape the stringy guts off the inside of your lid (no need to do this if you cut a hole in the bottom), and set it aside.

Step 2. Pull out the guts and seeds

Scoop out the stringy pulp and seeds with your han

Scoop out the stringy pulp and seeds with your hands or a long-handled spoon, placing the seeds in one bowl (for roasting later; see below) and the pulp in another one for the chickens or the compost pile. Scrape the inside of the pumpkin to get out every scrap of the stringy, soft pulp (any remaining pulp will speed the spoiling process), leaving only firm, hard flesh. Wipe the inside dry.

Step 3. Draw your design

Once you’ve made a cut you can’t erase it, so it’s a good idea to sketch your design onto the surface of the pumpkin before picking up a cutting tool. A felt tip marker works well for sketching and drawing.

Once you have the general sketching done, you can use an awl and poke small holes where you plan to cut (but you can’t erase these either, so you want to be sure before you do this).

As you’re learning how to carve a pumpkin, i

As you’re learning how to carve a pumpkin, it may be easier to draw simple shapes with straight sides, such as triangles, especially if you will be cutting them out with a knife. You may want to use a pre-made pattern.

You can be more creative if you will be cutting with a saw, but remember to leave enough undisturbed flesh between the individual shapes to support the pumpkin after it’s cut and starts to soften or dry out.

Step 4. Cut out your design

Use a small, sharp knife or an awl and saw (this s

Use a small, sharp knife or an awl and saw (this second option is much safer and easier) to cut along the edges of your marked design. Then gently press the loose bits into or out of the pumpkin with your finger.

For large or complicated openings, such as toothy grins, it works best to cut out small sections of the shape at a time. These bits of flesh can be cooked and eaten or tossed to the chickens or into the compost.

Step 5: Condition your jack-o’-lantern

Once you have finished carving your pumpkin, spray

Once you have finished carving your pumpkin, spray or wipe the inside of the cavity and all the cut surfaces with an essential oil-based cleaning spray, such as our melaleuca oil household cleaner or with a solution of 1 teaspoon borax dissolved in a quart of warm water. Even better: Soak the carved pumpkin overnight in a tub of borax water (1 tablespoon per gallon).

Step 6: Illuminate your jack-o’-lantern

Once you’ve carved a pumpkin into a jack-o’-lantern, you’ll want to show it off by putting a light inside to shine through the design. Tea light candles are a good size and easy to keep upright.

If you keep them inside a glass holder, they are less likely to blow out on a windy evening.

Use long fireplace matches or a lighter with a lon

Use long fireplace matches or a lighter with a long neck to help protect your fingers and hands while lighting a candle inside a jack-o’-lantern. If you cut your initial opening in the bottom, this isn’t an issue as you just light the candle out in the open and then lower the jack-o’-lantern over it.

Be sure to treat all lighted candles with respect, keeping them away from anything that could catch fire, and extinguish them when you can’t keep an eye on them.

You can also use a battery-operated tea light or wrap a short string of outdoor-rated Christmas lights around a glass jar and put that inside instead of a candle. (Blinking ones make for an extra-spooky effect.)

Carving a Pumpkin

Begin carving the pumpkin by tracing a lid. A dry erase marker was used for the tracing. A dry erase marker can be rubbed off easily after the cut is made. The lid above is a circle with a small notch. The notch will make replacing the lid easier when pumpkin carving is complete. Another option is to cut a pentagon (a polygon of five angles and five sides) or hexagon (a polygon of 6 angles and 6 sides) to serve as a lid.
Cut around the outline of the lid with a utility knife or carving saw. While cutting, hold the knife/saw at an angle, this will create a cone shaped lid that will prevent the lid from falling into the pumpkin when carving is finished.
Pull the stem to remove the cut lid. Depending on the thickness of the pumpkin, you may have to twist the lid to remove. Remove the pulp from the lid with a sharp utility knife.
Remove the strings and seeds from the inside of the pumpkin. Save the seeds in a separate container if you plan to make roasted pumpkin seeds.

After all the strings and seeds have been removed, scrape the walls of the pumpkin with a spoon or pumpkin scraper. For best carving results, it is recommended that the walls are 1″ thick in the area to be carved.

Tip: A canning jar lid also works great for cleaning out the inside of the pumpkin. The edges of the lid are sharp enough to do a good job of scraping the insides and lid is easy to handle when using.

With a dry erase marker, outline the face of your Jack-O-Lantern. The above outline was filled in to allow the viewer to see the outline clearly. Stencils are available for pumpkin carvings. The stencils are attached to the pumpkin with tape or push pins. The outline is drawn with a pencil or washable marker. Carve the face of the pumpkin with a sharpened knife or pumpkin saw.
Insert your light source, replace the lid and enjoy!

And when its time to light your pumpkin:

Simply set your pumpkin over top of a lit candle!

Check out how we decorated our pumpkin this year!  No scary faces here!  I pulled out he power drill and a large bit, and riddled our pumpkin with holes. It was so fun and easy to do, and the results are so pretty!

What do you think?

This sure makes the whole pumpkin carving business a lot easier doesn’t it?

However, if you prefer a more traditional jack-o-lantern, Spaceships and Laser Beams has over 700 FREE carving stencils for you to get creative with!  More than enough to get you and your entire family through a life-time of pumpkin carving!


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