How I Craft Gourds
To prepare a gourd for crafting, first you will need to remove the dirt and mold growing on it. To do this, I soak the gourd in a solution of bleach and water for 15 to 30 minutes. Then I scrub it vigorously with a steel scrubber or a stiff brush until all the mold is removed and the surface is smooth and clean. It's best to use a dust mask while scrubbing, as the mold can create health problems if inhaled. Let your gourd dry and you're ready to start crafting it.
At times, the mold will have left dark stains on the gourd surface and these can be quite attractive. You may decide to use the stain pattern in your decoration.
Gourd surfaces are similar to wood and you can cut, saw, paint, sand, and decorate them the same way you might craft a wood project. Use caution with cutting them...gourd shells can be thinner than wood and easy to crack.
Learn More About Gourd Art
Some of My First Gourd CreationsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Fascinating Gourd ShapesClick thumbnail to view full-size
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Painting and Decorating Gourds
After my gourd is cleaned of all mold and dried, I decide how I'll decorate it. Usually, I paint them with acrylic paints, then just add a couple of coats of polyurethane....allowing each coat to dry thoroughly. I've also tried colored markers and wood-burning. I've seen wood-burnt gourds that are simply beautiful. Unfortunately, it seems I have no talent for the procedure. My attempts come out either too burnt or with blobs of melted wood where I only wanted a thin line. Maybe with some practice, I'll improve my wood burning techniques.
Gourds have been utilized for centuries and can be fashioned into pottery, jewelry, musical instruments, etc. The list goes on and on. I've seen lamps and purses made from gourds. And of course, there are the old standards... birdhouses. I've even been so taken with the unusual shape of some gourds that I've simply coated them with polyurethane and set them out for attractive conversation pieces.
Gourd painting differs from painting on a flat surface and to me, at least, it's a little harder, due to the curvature of the gourd. But with a little practice, you can create some beautiful and practical items.
Acrylic paints dry very quickly and if you do not like your first attempts, you can just paint over them. Or, as long as you have not applied the preserving coat of varnish or polyurethane, you can even clean the paint off and start over from scratch. I remove dried acrylic paint from my gourds the same way I clean the gourds to begin with...using a steel scrubber and a bleach water solution.
More Decorated GourdsClick thumbnail to view full-size
When I first started decorating gourds, I cut them using a simple jig saw and drill. Later I acquired a Dremel 300 Rotary tool and these little guys are fantastic for crafting gourds! Costing in the neighborhood of $55-$60, they come with a large variety of attachments allowing you to cut, sand, drill and carve your gourds with a lot more precision. You will find hundreds of uses for a Dremel.....you can even file your dogs nails with them! Below are photos of gourds I've carved using a Dremel.
Gourds Carved with a DremelClick thumbnail to view full-size
Using a Dremel
Shop Crafting and Wood Burning Tools
Santa GourdsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Decorated gourds make wonderful Christmas ornaments and gifts. I had a lot of fun with these. These are all small ornamental gourds around 6 or 7 inches tall. Polymer clay is used for the feet.
Gourd Gnomes and Old Men
These were inspired by the "Tree Spirit" gnomes that are all over Ebay. I used polymer clay to mold the faces, then painted them. I saved the tops of the larger gourds when I cut them for bowls and they came in handy for the hats on the old men.
Gnomes and Old MenClick thumbnail to view full-size
Birdhouse GourdsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Cleaning the Inside of Gourds
There are times when you will need to clean the inside of the gourd. Although I love designing the big bowls, vases and other open gourds, I'm not crazy about cleaning the inside. The gourd will have seeds, pulp and a flaky skin. The dust and spores released could be damaging to your health if inhaled, so it's wise to use a dust mask.
I use an old spoon to scrape the pulp out and when it's as smooth as I can possibly make it, I paint the inside of the gourd. Then I start designing the outside.
When making bird houses, I leave the seeds inside for the birds to eat.
Gourd BowlsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Gourd Varieties We've GrownClick thumbnail to view full-size
Purchase Gourd Seeds Online
Growing and Drying Gourds for Crafting
There are many sites online where you can purchase crafting gourds that have already been dried and cleaned. But gourds are easy to grow and if you have some space for a garden, you may want to grow your own. We live in North Florida and we grew most of the gourds pictured on this hub.
We purchased seeds online and planted in early spring. If you live further north, seeds should be planted after all danger of frost is over for the season. Gourd vines take up quite a bit of space and the more space you can give them, the larger they will grow. With the large varieties, you can expect to have one or two gourds on a female vine. The smaller ornamental gourds can be grown on a trellis.
I've read that gourds "thrive on neglect" so we pretty much just left them alone until the vines started to dry out and it was time to harvest. The growing season is from 110 to 130 days for the hardshell gourds plus they need time to dry.
Although we let some of our gourds dry right on the vine, to prevent rot, a mature gourd can be cut a few inches up the stem and then placed in a dry spot with plenty of air circulation to finish drying. When you can shake the gourd and hear the seeds rattle inside, it is then dry and ready to craft. The drying process can take up to several months, but with patience and minimal care, you'll have your own gourds to craft before you know it.