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Pumpkin Carving 101: Make a Great Jack-O'-Lantern for Halloween

Updated on September 7, 2014

All About Pumpkin Carving

Carving pumpkins into Jack-O'-Lanterns is easy once you know a few tricks.

Find everything you need, right here, including the best pumpkin carving tools, tips to make the job easier and help for fixing any silly carving mistakes.

Learn how to make your own stencils, how to choose a great pumpkin (or grow your own) and other ideas to get you started on creating the best carved pumpkin around!

The Right Carving Tools Make it Easier

With the right tools pumpkin carving is easy and you can create a masterpiece in minutes.

Simple designs work best for beginners. Work your way up as your skills increase!

Be sure your pumpkin carving set comes with a poking tool for outlining your design, and a couple knives of differring sizes.

You'll want a tiny knife for getting into the intricate designs and a larger one to make the bigger cuts faster and easier.

This is a good basic set.

Pumpkin Masters® Deluxe Pumpkin Carving Kit: 21 Pieces; 15 Patterns; Safer Than Kitchen Knives
Pumpkin Masters® Deluxe Pumpkin Carving Kit: 21 Pieces; 15 Patterns; Safer Than Kitchen Knives

This set is fine for carving pumpkins with children. You still need to keep a watchful eye on them. Never leave children alone with sharp objects.


How to Make Your Own Pumpkin Stencil

Alhough you can buy great pumpkin stencils, or even find some for free online, you might want to try making your own pumpkin carving stencils to increase the creativity of your pumpkins.

I do recommend using a "real" stencil design on your very first carved pumpkin so that you can see the way the lines are drawn to include places where the pumpkin flesh needs to stay intact or you might end up very disappointed when your pumpkin falls apart.

Once you've got the hang of it and the feel for it, making your own stencils is fun!

If you're just getting started with making your own pumpkin stencils I suggest you pick a simple design, nothing too intricate.You can either draw a simple picture or find a black and white silhouette of something you'd like to make a jack-o-lantern into, online.I have used both methods and computer paper worked fine for me.

When you choose the size of your object, keep in mind that a pumpkin is not flat. You will need to account for that by making darts (folds) in the paper to get it to fit the shape of your pumpkin.Play around with the paper pattern on the pumpkin to find a suitable area to transfer your design to.

Larger pumpkins work better for the beginner because there is more flesh to work with.

Once you've found the right spot, tape the design to the outside of the pumpkin and using your pumpkin poker tool (found in most pumpkin tool kits) poke holes around all of the lines in your drawing, you can then remove the stencil and begin your pumpkin carving.Have fun!

My first home made pumpkin stencil was in the shape of the hatchet guy from the music group Insane Clown Posse. Both of my boys loved it! And it was so easy to do.

This is a must for intricate designs.

Dremel 764-04 Pumpkin Carving Rotary Tool includes 10 Templates
Dremel 764-04 Pumpkin Carving Rotary Tool includes 10 Templates

Makes carving intricate pumpkin designs as easy as tracing drawings.


From a Famous Pumpkin Carving Family

Pumpkins carved using the stencils included with the Grampa Bardeen's Family Pumpkin Carving Set.
Pumpkins carved using the stencils included with the Grampa Bardeen's Family Pumpkin Carving Set. | Source

The Ultimate Pumpkin Carving Set of Tools

Grampa Bardeen's Family Pumpkin Carving Set
Grampa Bardeen's Family Pumpkin Carving Set

This is the ultimate set of tools for the super serious pumpkin carver.


They don't need to be this fancy but,

Norpro Ornate Wood Toothpicks, 360 pieces
Norpro Ornate Wood Toothpicks, 360 pieces

Toothpicks will come in handy for fixing any carving mistakes you make and they help you get into the tight spots.


Quick Fix for Pumpkin Carving Mistakes

Say you are almost done carving your pumpkin and you are working on a tight spot when all of a sudden . . . Oh No!

A little piece of your masterpiece falls off. Don't worry! You don't have to start all over with a new pumpkin.

To fix most pumpkin carving mistakes all you need is a toothpick. Simply break off a section of a toothpick big enough to slide into both the pumpkin and the broken piece. Slip the toothpick into the pumpkin, leaving part of the toothpick exposed and then just slip that little broken piece back into place by sticking it onto the exposed toothpick.

For larger mistakes, you may need to use more than one toothpick sections.

What is your level of expertise?

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Vintage image of a boy carving a pumpkin.  Click the link to learn more.
Vintage image of a boy carving a pumpkin. Click the link to learn more. | Source

How to Grow Your Own Pumpkins for Carving

Once you start carving pumpkins, you won't want to stop. Why not grow your own pumpkins so you'll have plenty on hand?

When you think of Autumn or Fall, you just can't help thinking of pumpkins. What would Halloween be without glowing Jack-o-lantern faces lighting the night? Without pumpkins nearby, chrysanthemums just wouldn't be the ultimate Autumn decoration that they traditionally are, and don't even get me started on a Thanksgiving celebration without pumpkin pie.

I mean without pumpkins, Fall just wouldn't be Fall at all. Without pumpkins, Fall would just be like, like . . . Spring again maybe, or a really cool Summer. So when you're planning your garden, don't forget to leave a space for the most important vegetable of all, pumpkins! Without them, you'd be missing an entire season.

Pumpkins are actually members of the squash family. They grow on vines and come in many different sizes from the tiny all the way to the humongous. They are mostly found in various shades of orange but some types of pumpkin can be found in white (Perfect for using on that ghostly carved jack-o-lantern).

Before choosing which type of pumpkin you'd like to grow in your garden, you need to decide what you are going to use the harvested pumpkins for. If you want pumpkins mainly for carving, choose a round variety with a softer skin.

If you want to grow pumpkins mainly for eating, choose a variety that has a more flavorful taste.

Growing Pumpkins

The most important thing to remember when growing pumpkin seeds is that the tiny pumpkin seed you plant after all danger of frost has passed, will grow into a huge vine so be sure to give your pumpkin plants lots of space. Some pumpkin vines can spread up to ten feet.

Pumpkins have a long growing season so if you live in a colder climate you may need to start your plants indoors, three or four weeks ahead of time and then transplant them after all danger of frost has passed.

Pumpkins need a lot of water and fertilization in order to mature properly and reach their fullest potential. They produce both male and female flowers and need proper pollination to allow for the pumpkins to form. Don't chase those bees away!

If your goal is to have the largest pumpkin on the block, you will need to remove all but one pumpkin from each vine to allow all the nutrients and growing power to go to it.

To avoid disease never plant pumpkins in the same spot in the garden two years in a row.

Harvesting Pumpkins

Pumpkins are ready to be harvested when the rinds have hardened and they become the proper shade of orange or white for their variety.

Cut pumpkins from their vines using a sharp pair of garden shears, leaving a three to four inch length of the stem attached.

Pumpkins can be kept for weeks in a warm dry place when stored at 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Time-Lapse Video of Someone Carving a 3D Pumpkin

Pumpkin Carving Reader Feedback

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    • profile image

      longbitbeard 5 years ago

      The 'pumpkin mistake repair' section is genius. What a great idea. Wish I knew that before I carved my pumpkins this season. Might have been more adventurous with my carvings. No matter now, pumpkins are happily composting in my yard :)

    • makemoneyonline5 profile image

      makemoneyonline5 5 years ago

      awesome lens!

    • Gadgetlesstech profile image

      Gadgetlesstech 5 years ago

      Kewl...Thanks for this information. I have never been good at pumpkin carving and I'm sure that this will help to improve my skills.

    • profile image

      wattyan 5 years ago

      Very nice tips. Thanks for sharing

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      nice tips you have here.... will use it for my decoration at home.. :D

    • Fox Music profile image

      Fox Music 5 years ago

      Thank you for this great information about pumpkin carving

    • profile image

      Doc_Holliday 5 years ago

      Carving pumpkins with a manual tool is great fun.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Thank you, thank you, thank you fo the article!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      @funcook: Very informative; I will become more involve.

    • Riesling profile image

      Riesling 5 years ago

      I guess I dont have the right Tools :-)

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image

      Wednesday-Elf 5 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      Saw this on Bonnie's Halloween Pinterest pumpkin board and, although it is a bit early for Halloween, that gorgeous pumpkin celtic design drew me right in. How unique.

    • MelissaInTheSky profile image

      MelissaInTheSky 6 years ago

      I can't wait to get carving. :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Hi there. I'm in New Zealand and we don't get orange skinned pumpkins in the grocery stores/supermarkets so I was going to grow my own for next Halloween. However, it is the end of Spring in November in NZ. I think if I grow them now they will be ready in Autumn/Winter and here that is between March-August. Would the pumpkin (minus the flesh) be ok from August-November? Or would it be better to just carve a white skinned pumpkin? Our pumpkins here have light green-white skin. Also, can I grow Dills Atlantic Giant pumpkins to use for Jack O Lanterns and pumpkin pie?

    • profile image

      AmbrosiaPopsicle 7 years ago

      Pumpkin carving is the most fun you can have making a mess.Thank you for the awesome tips and tricks!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Good lens, I learned a few tricks from it. Bought my pumkin yesterday to carve and enter in a contest at work!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Just in-time for Halloween, now all I have to do is Crave my Pumpkins!!

    • surviving-2012 profile image

      surviving-2012 7 years ago

      Halloween is so fun. Thank you!

    • StaciJansma LM profile image

      StaciJansma LM 7 years ago

      Yes - pumpkin carving is a must and fun! Last year I just had my daughter paint on the pumpkins - she was only 2.

    • nukemdomis lm profile image

      nukemdomis lm 7 years ago

      Still haven't experimented with creating my own from my own images, but I plan to this year. I added your lens to my pumpkin carving lens.

    • nukemdomis lm profile image

      nukemdomis lm 7 years ago

      I never knew how to make a bigger pumpkin by reducing the number of pumpkins on a vine. What great information. Thanks!

    • TriviaChamp profile image

      TriviaChamp 7 years ago

      Some great tips and advice that I'll be sure to refer to this upcoming Halloween.

    • CherylK profile image

      Cheryl Kohan 8 years ago from Minnesota

      Excellent! I've never been very good at carving pumpkins...maybe I'll try it again, this year :-)

    • hlkljgk profile image

      hlkljgk 8 years ago from Western Mass

      great info, ideas and tools

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      I love this web site!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • profile image

      silverbar 9 years ago

      Cool stuff! Thanks for the read

    • justholidays profile image

      justholidays 9 years ago

      Finally I find what I am looking for my first pumpkin carving!Thanks for such great info!

    • WritingforYourW profile image

      WritingforYourW 9 years ago

      Love that you added information on growing pumpkins. I have a big yard. Hmm.... ;)

    • profile image

      Aika 10 years ago

      pretty cool designs, too bad I wasn't able to carved it. :(

    • profile image

      CraftBusiness 10 years ago

      Another great pumpkin carving site! Thanks for the great resources.

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 10 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Love it! Very deserving of 5 stars.Susan (going to go buy a pumpkin)

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 10 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      great page, lots of info - liked your tip on how to repair a mistake when you carve - use a toothpick, lol. I should have thought of that, but I'm not "crafty". Nice work here, Barb :)

    • RaintreeAnnie profile image

      RaintreeAnnie 10 years ago from UK

      Looking good! 5 stars. I might even have a go at pumpkin carving myself! The toothpick remedy is a good tip. Thank you.

    • profile image

      anonymous 10 years ago

      With Halloween right around the corner great resource. Makes one wonder why carving a pumpkin ever began...

    • fefe42 profile image

      fefe42 10 years ago

      Will have to try some more pumpkin carving... I once made a pumpkin that looked sort of like Beavis from Beavis and Butthead (on accident) so I could really use the stencils!

    • profile image

      Quilteralice 10 years ago

      Fun lens - timely reading!Alice

    • profile image

      minky 10 years ago

      Excellent lens, very interesting content.

    • profile image

      Aika 10 years ago

      very cool idea, and useful too! Perfect resource for Halloween.

    • JonitasKalimpo profile image

      JonitasKalimpo 10 years ago

      Just one sugestion, add the definition of what pumpkin carving is. Great lens.