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How to Carve a Pumpkin

There is something magical about a carved pumpkin with a candle glowing inside to

celebrate crisp fall evenings.


Pumpkin Face


My favorite design is a simple old-fashioned triangle eyed pumpkin face with a friendly grin.



How to carve a traditional

This method uses a sharp knife!


Only adults or an older child assisted by an adult should use this method.


The traditional method is fast and easy and you can whip out several grinning Jack-O-Lanterns in no time.


Carving pumpkins can be messy. Cover your work surface with some old newspapers. Have a bowl or bucket on hand for the seeds and pulp. Examine each side of the pumpkin and choose where you want your face to be.


You can use a soft lead pencil or a ballpoint pen to inscribe and etch outlines for your eyes, nose and mouth on the pumpkin. Gel pens also work well as you can gently wipe off any stray lines when you are done. China markers (sometimes call grease pencils and found at most hardware stores) work well for larger pumpkins. You can wipe off stray markings with a soft damp cloth just like a gel pen. At the same time you draw your face, you should also draw the outline for the lid. The lid needs to be large enough for your hand to fit inside the pumpkin. A hexagon lid is easier to cut than a circle.


Using a boning or paring knife cut out your lid. Be sure to always cut away from your hand. A narrow bladed knife works best. It is easier to control and gives you more flexibility in cutting your design. You will need to use an up and down sawing motion. Be sure to cut a notch in the lid, so you can easily fit it back on the pumpkin. Also cut the lid at a 45° angle slanting inward, with the top of the lid larger than the bottom, so your lid will snugly fit back on without falling in.


Use a large table spoon or an ice cream scoop to clean out the seeds and stringy material. Our family affectionately refers to this as pumpkin "goop". Scrape the sides, bottom and lid firmly so they are clean. Be sure you have scraped at flat area on the bottom to hold your candle. Save the seeds to toast later.(click here for a recipe)


Carefully cut out the eyes, nose and mouth. You can pop the pieces out from the inside if needed.


Place a tea light or votive candle in a glass holder in the bottom of your pumpkin.






Instead of cutting out a lid, you can cut a hole from the base of your pumpkin. After your pumpkin is carved simply place it over a candle. Another alternative is to cut a trap door in the back of the pumpkin. Remember to slant the cuts inward and to make a notch so you can fit it back in easily.


Use a hole drill bit to cut a hole near the back top to let candle smoke and heat to escape. If you don't have a hole drill, an apple corer will do the trick.


Toothy Jack-O-Lantern


If you accidentally cut too deep through a section, or break a protruding piece like a tooth, all is not lost.



Use a toothpick to hold the two sections together. You may need to break the toothpick in half. Press it into the area where the break occurred, and then press the broken piece onto the toothpick. Voilá!


Pumpkin Stem Face


It is fun to turn a pumpkin on its side and use the stem for a nose. Get creative and use small gourds or pinecones as eyes. Use wheat stems or corn husks for hair. Get really wild and use an ear of Indian Corn placed on its side for a mouth.


Tealight Candle


Choose a short squatty candle that can't easily tip over. Use a glass votive holder to place the candle in inside the pumpkin. This is safer than a plain votive as it can prevent burns and wax spills.


Use a wand butane lighter, or long fireplace matches to light your candle instead of standard matches, to prevent burns.


Small Jack-O-Lantern


For small pumpkins use small tea light candles.


Instead of a candle use a small corded light like the ones used in porcelain Christmas villages. You can usually find these at Target, Walmart and most craft stores. Cut a channel in the base of the pumpkin for the cord to extend through. Be sure the rest of the cord is in an area where folks won't trip on it.


In lieu of a candle or electricity, you can use a battery powered light disc. These are getting to be more popular, are very safe, and can usually be found in the fall seasonal department of your favorite store. Some of them even make spooky sounds and have a strobe light effect.


You can put the base of a electric or battery light in a plastic baggie to keep it from getting slimy.


Your pumpkin doesn't have to be scary, and it doesn't even have to have a face. It is fun to use leaf cookie cutters. Press the cookie cutters partially into the flesh to inscribe the design. Then cut them with a knife.


Flower Cutout Pumpkin


This makes for a really nice autumn table centerpiece. It is fun to do this same idea with various shapes of daisy or star cookie cutters. If you don't have cookie cutters, just draw your own design, or gather fall leaves in your yard and trace them.


For a finishing touch cut the lid in a scalloped pattern.


Use a drill and a medium sized drill bit to make random holes all over your pumpkin. Place a string of twinkle lights inside and poke the individual bulbs through the holes. You can make a groove in the back to accommodate the cord. Be sure to count how many twinkle lights you have so you don't make to many holes. Don't be afraid to try colored lights. Red and green make really fun focal points.


Polka Dot Pumpkin


If your pumpkin doesn't sit flat, prop it level with a shingle or a folded piece of cardboard. For safety if it doesn't feel stable, use duct tape to adhere the cardboard or shingle to the base of your pumpkin.


For a pleasing aroma sprinkle some cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice on the inside of the lid of your pumpkin. The heat from the candle will activate the smell and send it wafting through the air.


Above all, have fun and. . . be safe!







How to Preserve a Jack-O-Lantern



Once a pumpkin has been carved it has a short life span, usually not more than a few days.


There are some steps you can take to make it last longer.







  • After you have carved your pumpkin, use your fingertips dipped in petroleum jelly or vegetable oil to coat the cut edges of your Jack-O-Lantern. If the design is intricate you can use a cotton swab.
  • During the day keep your pumpkin out of the
    direct sun.
  • Cover your pumpkin with a wet towel during
    the day.
  • If you have room in your refrigerator, place
    your pumpkin in it overnight.
  • Place your pumpkin in a bucket of water
  • Add a tsp of bleach to a bucket of water and
    dip your pumpkin in it to inhibit mold growth.
  • If you aren't going to eat your pumpkin, some folks have had some success with hairspray or clear acrylic spray.



The idea is to seal the flesh so it will not have moisture loss. Use caution with using white glue. Glue can actually feed the mold spores and cause quicker degradation than just leaving your pumpkin as is.


All in all, all good things must come to an end.


Sad Pumpkin


Not to worry . . . there will be lots
more pumpkins again next year!

Carving Intricate Designs


The new inexpensive safe carving kits that are now widely available are absolutely wonderful! They are much safer, easier to use than a knife, and they allow you to create more intricate designs. We just love using them on our farm. If you are unable to find a kit locally you may order one from us by clicking here.


My oldest daughter does all sorts of designs using the plastic carving kits. She is a serious pumpkin carver and has found that her heavy wood carving tools work well also. The stylus that comes in the kits makes for an easy way to transfer patterns.


You can draw your own pattern. If you have a business it is fun to do your logo, your favorite animal, Nascar driver number, etc. Draw or photocopy the design you want on a piece of paper. If it is a little too large, or too small, use a photo copier to adjust the size.


Use masking tape to hold the pattern to the front of your pumpkin. You may need to cut darts into the pattern so it can mold to fit the shape of your pumpkin.


Using the stylus (or a push pin or a nail) transfer your design to your pumpkin by pressing pinprick dots through the paper all along the edge of your design. Remove the paper and use a pencil to lightly connect the dots.


Now using a small pumpkin saw you can cut out your intricate design.


Intricate Owl Jack-O-Lantern


Keep in mind that you don't have to cut all the way through the shell. Sometimes it is fun to leave part of the flesh, for a two-toned multi-dimensional effect. On a dark night the candle light will shine through the shallow portion for a really nice eerie effect.


The sky is the limit . . . use your imagination!!


Painting Pumpkins


I think I almost like painting pumpkins as much as carving them. Painted pumpkins can last for months, so you can enjoy them for the whole fall season.


Painting pumpkins is inexpensive and easy. It is a fun family project if you have toddlers.


Start by choosing the location on the pumpkin where you want your face. I prefer to just draw the face I want directly onto a pumpkin using colored Sharpie markers. Not to worry, if this intimidates you a bit, you can draw the pattern you want on a piece of paper, or photo copy an existing pattern, and then with gentle pressure trace the outlines on the pattern with a soft pencil or stylus to inscribe the design.


My guess is, after your first pumpkin or two, you will be freehand creating pumpkin faces too!


Goofy Pumpkin Face


You can use any brand of acrylic craft paint. I prefer using Ceramacoat or Folk Art paints bought from Michaels or Walmart. These are wonderful as they are inexpensive, non-toxic, and clean up with soap and water. Don't be afraid to use bright colors. Children especially enjoy the many metallic paints now available.


Use a small brush to paint your eyes, nose and mouth on your pumpkin. You can use a small sponge or a cotton swab to dab on cheek blush. When the paint is dry (usually about 15 minutes or so) I like to spray a light coat of acrylic spray over the entire pumpkin. This gives the features a nice gloss finish and helps to protect the painted areas. As an option you could use a gloss acrylic paint.


For extra pizzazz add cotton balls, ostrich feathers, raffia, straw hats, ribbon, yarn hair, pinecones, etc. to give your pumpkin its very own unique personality. Use a non-toxic craft glue like Aleene's to attach them to your pumpkin..


Happy Jack-O-Lantern


Small pumpkins done in this manner make a really nice teacher or office gift.


Painted Jack-be-little


Warning: Once you get started painting pumpkins, it's hard to stop until you have an entire family!


Note: Use caution when displaying a painted pumpkin for more than a few days on a wood surface. The moisture in the pumpkin can damage the wood. Place a saucer or plate underneath the pumpkin to be on the safe side.


Other Carving Candidates


Lopsided, oddly shaped or warty pumpkins are great candidates for carving. In addition to the traditional orange Jack-o-lantern, there are many other varieties of pumpkins and winter squash that can be carved.


Luminas have an orange interior and white shell which looks eerie and ghostly when carved and illuminated with a candle. Green hubbard squash can be carved into whimsical looking creatures and green pumpkins make a great ghoulish Frankenstein head.


Cushaws have green and gold stripes which make for an unsual and colorful carved centerpiece. Their softer skin carves easily.


Queensland Blues and Jarrahdales can be a bit hard to carve due to their hard skin and small cavity. Acorns have a very hard shell and you should use extremem caution when carving them. Even so, once carved all of these are exceedingly attractive.


Don't be afraid to experiment. It if doesn't work out, save the flesh and process it for pies, breads, cookies etc. For recipe ideas click here.