How do you carve a pumpkin?

Carving a jack-o’-lantern has been a Halloween tradition for more than 100 years. An Irish myth says when a man named Stingy Jack died, he wasn’t allowed into heaven or hell, but was forced to roam the Earth for eternity. People in Ireland began carving the faces of fierce demons into turnips and put candles inside them to frighten away Jack’s wandering soul.

When they came to America, they started carving the much larger pumpkins that had ripened by the end of summer, just in time for All Hallow’s Eve. You can do your part to frighten Stingy Jack away this Halloween by carving a pumpkin of your own, but don’t forget spooky decorations and pumpkin-spiced foods and drinks.

Choosing a pumpkin

  • Pick a firm one: If your jack-o’-lantern is going to be outdoors, the weather will age it. If it’s inside, the warmth of the home will weaken the fibers and hasten its decay.
  • Select one that’s the right size and shape for your design: If you’re going to carve a narrow face, choose a tall one. If you want to make a broad face, choose a wide one. Or deliberately mismatch the pumpkin and the face for artistic effect, such as carving a tiny face in a really huge pumpkin.
  • Choose one with a flat bottom: This important feature is too often overlooked. You want your jack-o’-lantern to be steady and not topple over easily.

Choosing a design

Decide what kind of face you want to put on your jack-o’-lantern. There are some excellent books on how to carve pumpkins into great designs.

  • Traditionalists: Many people cut away triangular parts of the rind to make eyes and a nose. They follow this with a wide smile, usually with most — but not all — of the teeth missing. Then they use smaller kitchen and paring knives to trim the edges of their cuts and add finer details than are possible with large carving knives.
  • Stencils: Some people like more intricate designs than the traditional jack-o’-lantern. Make sure you have plenty of tapes to attach the flat surface of the stencil to the curved outside of your pumpkin.
  • Cookie cutters: You can use the different shapes of your cookie cutters to make interesting faces. Make sure to choose stainless steel so they’re machine-washable and won’t rust.
  • Drills: Use a small handheld electric drill to cut through the pumpkin. When you have a rotary tool kit, you can use differently shaped drill bits to create different effects.

Carving your pumpkin

Draw and cut

Draw the design you want on the outside of the pumpkin with a pencil or marker, then follow the lines to make your cuts. Classic carving usually starts with getting the biggest knife in the house, usually a chef’s knife or a butcher knife with a long, thick, straight blade.

Take the top off

Cut a hole in the top with the stem at the center. Make it wide enough that you can reach your hand inside. After you’ve had the “cap” fall into your pumpkin, you will learn to cut the top at an angle so it fits snugly when you replace it instead of falling through the hole.

Scoop out the innards

Jack-o’-lanterns have hollow insides where you traditionally place a candle. To turn a pumpkin into a jack-o’-lantern, use your hand to scoop out most of the meat and seeds and set them aside. Then continue to hollow out your pumpkin by scraping away the soft interior with a large kitchen spoon, leaving only the firm rind.

Seal it

If you coat all the cut edges with petroleum jelly, your pumpkin stays fresh longer.

Light it up

  • Traditionalists who like to use candles often choose votives, but all choose candles with stable bases.
  • Moderns prefer using LED lights so they can use different colors and effects, such as flashing, twinkling and strobing.

What else can you carve?

  • Turnips. Now that you know the tradition, you can keep it alive by carving turnips this year. They’re much smaller than pumpkins, so you can carve several.
  • Gourds: Any squashes with thick skins can be opened and scooped out to make room for a candle. Use zucchini and crookneck squash to make fierce demons with oddly shaped heads.
  • Watermelon: If you carve this year’s jack-o’-lantern from a watermelon, you get a great-looking jack-o’-lantern with lots of fruit you can serve to your Halloween party guests.

What you need to buy for carving pumpkins

best Jack O Pattern Pumpkin Carving Stencils

Jack O Pattern Pumpkin Carving Stencils

You get 50 templates for turning your pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns. Kids 10 and younger can choose ghosts and zombies, bats, cats, owls, spiders, skeletons, vampires and more.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

best 7Felicity Professional Halloween Pumpkin Carving Kit

7Felicity Professional Halloween Pumpkin Carving Kit

This nine-piece set comes with stainless steel saws, knives, scraper, scoop, loops, drills and etching tools, all with sure-grip rubber handles in a zippered carrying case. These are sharp tools for adults and not toys for small kids.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

best Pumpkin Punchers Carving Kit for Kids

Pumpkin Punchers Carving Kit for Kids

You can mix and match these 24 stainless steel cookie cutter shapes to make 31 designs. This kid-friendly kit contains no knives. You place the pumpkin puncher where you want it and tap it with a mallet to cut neatly through the rind.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

best Outus 60-Piece Halloween Pumpkin Face Stickers

Outus 60-Piece Halloween Pumpkin Face Stickers

The little ones who aren’t allowed to use knives aren’t left out when you give them this kit with eyes, eyebrows, noses and mouths. Even the littlest kids can mix and match these non-toxic, self-adhesive and waterproof stickers to create their own jack-o’-lanterns.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

best Goxawee Rotary Tool Kit

Goxawee Rotary Tool Kit

You hold this keyless quick-change variable-speed electric drill like a pen, using any of the 140 pieces that come in a hard-sided case to drill and cut intricate shapes with ease, at speeds from 8,000 to 30,000 revolutions per minute.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

best Homemory Orange Flameless Tea Light Candles

Homemory Orange Flameless Tea Light Candles

The flickering flames on these 24 votive candles are actually LED lights that replicate the look and feel of real candles, without the mess and the smoke. They come with on/off switches and CR2032 batteries that last for more than 150 hours.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

 

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