While carving pumpkins is a time-honored tradition that spans generations, many modern-day carvers eschew traditional Jack-o’-Lantern faces in favor of more elaborate designs. The end result may look complicated, but it’s easy to let your creativity shine when you use the right tools. Let your imagination run wild and create a unique Jack-o’-Lantern with these pumpkin carving tips!
Pumpkin Carving Tools for Jack-o’-Lanterns
- Grease pencils (white, yellow, black) are good for drawing designs and easily wipe off with dry cloth.
- Pottery/leather craft needles or large embroidery needles can be used to transfer template designs and/or poke holes in pumpkins to add accessories.
- Wood chisels are a good way to gouge skin and expose flesh, creating a soft glow when pumpkin is lit.
- Small saws with serrated edges cut easily into tough-skinned pumpkins.
- Melon ballers make quick work of cutting round eyes and mouths.
- Craft knives with assorted blades work well on thin-skinned pumpkins.
- Pocketknives have just the right plunge depth and are easy to wield.
- Ice-cream paddles have strong handles and work well for scooping out pumpkin guts.
Pumpkin Carving Tips for a Traditional Jack-o’-Lantern
- Cut a hole in the base of the pumpkin just big enough to reach into (no larger than two-thirds of the diameter of the pumpkin). Circles are fine, but a six-sided hole is easier.
- Scoop out seeds and strings with a large spoon or an ice-cream paddle.
- Scrape the inside walls clean.
- Rub a thin coat of Vaseline onto the flesh to keep the skin from drying out.
- If using a template, tape it onto the pumpkin and pierce guide dots through the template into the skin. Alternatively, use a grease pencil to draw on a design.
- Carefully cut out features, starting with the most delicate parts, such as the teeth.
- Rub a thin coat of Vaseline onto the fleshy parts of the new openings.
How to Light Your Jack-o’-Lantern
Use a votive candle or tea light in a clear glass candleholder. To enhance glow, put a slightly crumpled piece of foil—shiny side up—under the candleholder. Always punch a nickel-sized hole just behind the pumpkin stem to vent smoke and help the candle burn. Candles are not recommended for short, squat pumpkins or for pumpkins with decorations that can burn. Instead, use mini outdoor Christmas lights: bundle a string in a glass jar for big Jack-o’-Lanterns, or loop a few bulbs together in bunches to light a grouping of pumpkins. Battery-operated lights are available at many stores. When using candles, monitor pumpkins frequently.
Trimmings for Your Pumpkin
- Crystals are brilliant as teeth and eyes. Attach with thin wire.
- Use marbles as glowing eyes. Press into holes made with a melon baller.
- Gum such as Chiclets or Eclipse makes tasty teeth. Push a pin into the top of each piece of gum, then push the head of a pin into pumpkin-flesh “gums.””
- Add whimsy with a necktie, boa, or beaded necklace around the base of the pumpkin.
- Top off your creation with a tiny felt stovepipe or witch hat, placed over the stem and secured with a pin.
- Hot-glue plastic ants, flies, and spiders to the outside of the pumpkin.
- Large vintage earrings and Halloween ribbon can glam up a dishy pumpkin.
- For fantastic fangs, use tiny carrots dipped in white paint and secured by pins in Jack’s gums.
- Use spray paint and glitter to add new dimensions to designs.
What are your favorite pumpkin carving techniques?
This article was first published in Yankee Magazine in 2004.