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Carving a Great Pumpkin

Updated on January 5, 2021
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John is a fervent writer, gamer, and guitar lover. He is a former automatic-transmission repairer, welder, and hobbyist game developer.


In 2016, Halloween is more popular than ever, and nothing symbolises the spirit of this holiday quite like a carved pumpkin, or "jack-o’-lantern". Such is the importance of this little ritual that, every year around October, the number of pictures popping up on Twitter, Instagram, etc, showing expertly carved pumpkins has grown to pandemic levels. A simple gap-toothed face with triangle eyes just won’t cut the mustard anymore.

Fortunately, carving a great pumpkin is not neary as hard as it looks, and in this hub, we’re going to take it step by step so that, soon, you’ll be the one posting pictures of a pumpkin masterpiece.

The Basics

Walk before you run. Or Carve. But don't walk and carve at the same time.

We won’t dwell on the basic principle of pumpkin carving for long, but it should at least be covered here on the off chance that anybody reading this hub is a jack-o’-lantern virgin.

Some designs are trickier than others. Choose wisely.
Some designs are trickier than others. Choose wisely. | Source

Choose Your Design

We'll get into design in a bit more depth later, but broadly speaking you should have some idea of what you want your jack-o’-lantern to look like before you go vegetable shopping. The shape, colour, features, and size of a pumpkin all play into the final look, so make sure you’re buying one that will work with what you have in mind.

Find Your Pumpkin

When selecting your pumpkin you obviously want to consider size but it shouldn’t be the determining factor. If your design requires that your pumpkin be super tiny or too big to carry, then by all means let size be your guide, but if not, look for other factors.

Is the pumpkin a good shape? Traditionally a jack-o’-lantern is symmetrical with no serious deviation from the typical oblate spheroid (or “squashed ball”) shape. Does it have discolouration in places, or blemishes in the outer skin. More importantly, would any imperfections like discolouration or asymmetry be an advantage for what you have in mind? That’s why we picked our design first!

Prepare Your Pumpkin

This is the messy bit. The first thing you need to do is cut an opening through which you can scoop out the innards (as shown in the handy video just to the right). For the overwhelming majority, this will be a circular section at the “top”, where the stem sticks out, however you may have some clever design in mind that requires you cut your crown elsewhere. We’ll get into tools later in the hub, but for now just know you need to use something serrated. Cut a circular hole, take a firm hold of the stem, and pull. There’ll be resistance as the fibres inside the pumpkin break free of the crown piece but it shouldn’t be too difficult.

Once you have your opening, get a dish, bowl, bag, bin, or anything you can use to keep the soggy pumpkin innards in. It’s best to do this over a cleanable surface—such as a kitchen counter—or a mat or towel. Once you’re ready, take a strong metal spoon and begin scooping out the innards. When you’ve got it mostly empty, scrape the insides of the pumpkin until the slimy residue is mostly gone, or until you reach the desired thickness if you having something particular in mind.

Carve Your Pumpkin!

Unless you’re a master in the art of pumpkin carving, you should probably draw your design out first. Again, we’ll get into designs in more detail later, but for now let’s just assume you’re doing a simple face. Use a felt tip if possible; it will mark the pumpkin well enough to see but still clean away afterwards.

Once your design is drawn, begin cutting it out. Try to keep your cutting tool perpendicular to the pumpkin at any given time, that way you should get a nice, clean appearance from the outside.

Push out the cutaway segments, clean up the edges, and you’re done!

It can take a lot of slow, tedious work, but a carefully carved pumpkin will look impressive when it's done.
It can take a lot of slow, tedious work, but a carefully carved pumpkin will look impressive when it's done. | Source

Now that we’ve gone over the basics, let’s move on to making something spectacular.


Anyone who says "A good workman never blames his tools" has clearly never tried to carve a pumpkin with a fork.

If you’re going to take your pumpkin carving seriously, you need the right tools. You may have guessed by now that a simple knife just won’t cut it… well, it will, but there’s more to it than that.

Firstly you will want to get hold of a thin serrated blade for cutting out the features of your pumpkin. If you’ve ever tried to carve anything small and fiddly with a normal kitchen knife, you’ll understand why. For scooping, nothing really beats a good, solid metal spoon. You can buy Halloween kits that come with, among other things, a small serrated blade and a scoop, but don’t expect the scoop to be any good.

If you’re going to go all out with your design you’ll want some tools that are more suited to the task. Fortunately a set of modelling tools can be found very inexpensively on sites like Amazon. I personally use a set of clay modelling tools that I purchased for less than $10. Obviously, if you’re going to be carving hundreds of pumpkins (perhaps you’re a professional pumpkin carver?) you might want to invest in some higher quality tools, but for the rest of us, a simple pumpkin carving set can be bought for less than $15.


Scary? Funny? Intricate? Pick your design carefully...

By far the trickiest part about carving an awesome pumpkin is coming up with an interesting and/or clever design. Now, if you’re in this to make something unique and amazing that you can show people and say, “I designed that,” then there’s not much help I can offer. Everybody’s artistic method is different, and you’ll know better than anyone else how you should approach coming up with a new design. If, however, you just want a cool pumpkin, and you don’t mind the fact that you didn’t design it, the Internet is your friend.

It’s literally as easy as heading over to Google, clicking on “Image Search”, and typing “Pumpkin Designs” into the search bar. You’ll also find there are many pumpkin designs that are conveniently available in a simple, ready to print silhouette that can be easily traced onto your pumpkin.

Try not to be too ambitious when selecting your design, however. If this is your first time carving, you don’t want to pick a design that took a clay modelling artist a hundred hours to complete!

Google Image Search is a great resource for finding pumpkin designs and inspiration.
Google Image Search is a great resource for finding pumpkin designs and inspiration.


Let the fun begin.

Pumpkin Tips

  • Don't be afraid to incorporate props into your design. Using the pumpkins innards as faux vomit has been a popular one.
  • Think outside the box; you don't need to stick to a simple face with your design.
  • Have fun. Unless you're being paid to carve pumpkins, that's what this is all about!

The single most important bit of advice that can be given when it comes to carving a pumpkin (other than “don’t cut your finger off”) is to take your time. It can be a bit of a tedious process—especially if your design is a complicated one—but if you start to rush it you will invariably be disappointed with the final result.

If you’re not confident with your carving hand, err on the side of not cutting enough away. You can always shave a little more away, but you can’t add it back once it’s gone. And on that subject, be sure not to shave too much away from the inside of your pumpkin, or you might find it collapsing under its own weight after a few days.

You're Done!

Sit back and marvel at your creation.

Pop a candle, tealight, or even a small battery powered light inside your pumpkin and wait for night to fall so you can get a real feel for how good your creation looks.

Trick or treat...

© 2016 John Bullock


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