Make Your Best Carved Pumpkins This Halloween!
Pumpkin Carving is one of the most enjoyable activities of the autumn time, and those who celebrate Halloween in particular enjoy hollowing out pumpkins to carve faces or full decorations on their front in order to display them on October 31st. From the basic Halloween Jack O'Lantern to more complex designs, anybody of any skill level can carve an incredible pumpkin! All you have to do is learn some basic tricks to make your carving experience as good as it can be, and then you'll be set to create the best carved pumpkins you can!
This article sets out to help you from the beginning (choosing a pumpkin) to creating a design for your pumpkin, to the actual carving process. You'll find a list of tools that will help you to carve a great pumpkin as well as recommendations to purchase the supplies that you're going to need.
Remember that your best carved pumpkins aren't going to produce edible materials other than the seeds. While those can be roasted, you're purchasing your pumpkin to carve, not to eat!
I recommend the pumpkin patch for this, especially if you have children. They'll have a great time and you'll get an excellent carving pumpkin.
Choosing Your Pumpkin
The first step to getting your best carved pumpkins this year is to choose the right pumpkin.
I strongly advise you to purchase your pumpkin from a pumpkin patch or to grow it yourself. The pumpkins that you'll find at the discount or grocery stores aren't as high quality and often have unwanted blemishes on them. Additionally, make sure that you purchase your carving pumpkin before they are too terribly picked over, or you're going to risk getting whatever's left over.
Make sure that your pumpkin has a flat bottom. Your pumpkin will have a flat spot where it lay while it was growing, so if it lay in the wrong position, you may have flat spots on other parts of the pumpkin. Ensure that the one you're choosing sits flat against a surface or the ground, so that it won't tip once you get it home and start to carve it.
You'll be looking for a large, round pumpkin. Smaller pumpkins are generally used for baking and eating, and the large, carving pumpkins have too little flavor to make them edible. You want a pumpkin that has a good, round shape and is relatively large. Tall and ovular works as well, but make sure that it's sturdy and that you have enough space to clear out the insides of the pumpkin.
Once you've made sure that you have these two criteria met, you're now looking for a pumpkin that has a relatively long stem. It doesn't need to be huge, but this will be the "handle" on the "lid" of your pumpkin, so that you can remove the top and put in the candle so that the pumpkin will be lit from the inside on Halloween night.
Which do you prefer?
Choose Your Design
When you've selected the perfect pumpkin to carve, the next step to carving a great pumpkin is to choose the design you'd like to carve into your pumpkin.
You have a lot of choices when doing this. Obviously, the Jack O'Lantern is traditional for Halloween, but you have plenty of other options! The recommended book will teach you how to carve into the face of the pumpkin to create amazing designs from your pumpkin, but you have other options as well.
I suggest sketching your design onto a piece of paper before preparing your pumpkin to be carved. Whether you're going to try to do something complex or something very traditional, this will aid in making sure that your vision comes out on the pumpkin and not just on the paper.
Choose Your Supplies
In theory, the only thing you need to carve a pumpkin is a very sharp blade. A craft knife is preferred for this because it can take tight corners and give you better carving radii, but a good carving kit may be preferred, since it gives you the option of sculpting the surface of your pumpkin in order to give it added dimension.
For those who are only looking to carve a traditional Jack O'Lantern, a high quality craft knife will do the trick. I've recommended one of these to the right. In this case, the recommended knife is a full Xacto set with several different customizable blades. This will help you to get into those tight spaces in your design.
If you look below, you will see that I've also recommended a pumpkin carving kit, for you purists. This kit is designed to be good for carving as well as for sculpting your pumpkin, and it's a great choice for those who are interested in creating more complex designs (such as those in the book that I recommended above).
Sculpting a Pumpkin
Just as pumpkins can be carved, they can also be sculpted using a set of tools designed for sculpting the flesh away from the inside of the pumpkin. In this case, you won't be carving sections of the pumpkin out, but you will be molding the flesh of the pumpkin into a design. The book I recommended above is designed for those who are looking to sculpt their pumpkin.
If this is what you wish to do, you need a special set of sculpting tools, which you can purchase at the link to the right. You may wish to purchase one of these kits in addition to a carving kit, so that you can get the full range of effects with your pumpkins this year.
Complex Carved Pumpkins
Logos and Designs
Put some newspaper down on the table in order to make cleanup easier.
Prepare Your Pumpkin
The first step, before you can carve, is to prepare your pumpkin. This starts with removing the top of the pumpkin with a knife or craft blade. I've found that this is best done with a longer blade so that you can reach the inside of the pumpkin from its thickest point. Make sure that the knife goes all the way through the pumpkin's flesh to the inside and that you have gone all the way around the lid. This isn't decorative, but you can make this a jagged or wavy edge if you wish to do so.
Once you have the lid off the pumpkin, it's time to start carving out its innards. It's best, in my opinion, to start by scooping the pulp out with your hands. It will be mixed with seeds, which can be separated and roasted later as a special nutty Halloween treat.
After I have gotten the pulp out of the pumpkin, I like to scrape its inside with a spoon to thin the sides a little bit for easier carving, but this isn't necessary.
Transfer Your Design to the Pumpkin
I don't recommend freehanding your pumpkin, which means that you're going to need to transfer the design that you created onto the surface of your pumpkin. There are several ways that you can do this, but I prefer to simply draw the design on with a pen (freehanding it onto the pumpkin with a pen, which can be wiped off, rather than with the knife, which cannot).
Another method you can use is transfer paper. Trace your original design onto transfer paper, then use the transfer method to move the transfer onto your pumpkin. This can be done using soft paper (such as strong tissue paper) to design your pumpkin with carbon pencil, and then rub the design onto the pumpkin from the other side of the paper.
A final method is to hold your design against your pumpkin and trace it again, very firmly, to create an indentation over the flesh of your pumpkin where the lines on your paper were. Again, use soft paper so that it conforms to the shape of your pumpkin!
The final step to making your best carved pumpkins this year is to carve them! Use a good set of tools (I've recommended some above, both for carving and for sculpting) and carve the face out of your pumpkin. Set a votive candle inside, light it, and turn the lights off to see the effect of this year's Jack O'Lantern!