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Pumpkin Carving Tips

How to Carve a Pumpkin and Roast those Seeds!

Pumpkin carving tips can all be found here! This is a great place to learn more about pumpkin carving, and some helpful hints I've learned from years of pumpkin carving.

This pumpkin carving tips article goes into depth about doing more involved intricate carvings, but beginners will find helpful advice as well.

You'll find helpful tips on how to choose the right pumpkin, how to clean them out, transferring the pumpkin pattern, and even a recipe on how to roast the seeds. There is also advice on how to photograph the pumpkins and preserve them so they will last longer.

pumpkin carving
pumpkin carving

Click on any of the pumpkin carving tips below to jump around on this page, or scroll down to read the entire article.

Tip 1: Choosing a Pattern

Tip 2: Picking out your Pumpkin

Tip 3: Cleaning out the Pumpkin

Tip 4: Preparing the Pumpkin Seeds for Eating

Tip 5: Transferring the Pattern to your Pumpkin

Tip 6: Carving the Pumpkin

Tip 7: Fixing Mistakes

Tip 8: Preserving Carved Pumpkins

Tip 9: Photographing Carved Pumpkins

Click Here to See Photos of Pumpkin Carvings Others Have Shared!

Pumpkin Carving Tip 1:  Choosing a Pattern

I prefer to choose my design BEFORE I pick out my pumpkin. Or, you could get your pumpkin first and then find a face to match the shape. But if you have some ideas in mind, it makes it much easier later to get the correct size and shape pumpkin.

You may have a pumpkin pattern you got free from the Internet or from a pumpkin carving kit, or maybe you are artistic enough to draw one freehand. Or, you could MAKE YOUR OWN pumpkin pattern based off a photograph or clip art. Start by searching the Internet for pumpkin carving photos, you will find loads. Or, you find a spooky picture of something you want to mimic, or even a photograph of a celebrity which you can turn it into a pattern.

Once you have your pattern, print it out at actual size you want it to be. You may have to have it print on two pages, and then you can tape the two pages together.

To condition the clay, break off a small piece and begin rolling it in your hands. Your hands will warm it up and it will start getting soft the more you work with it. A pasta machine can help condition the clay if you run the clay through it at the largest setting. Take the sheet and roll it in half and run it through again. Another technique is to break up the clay in a food processor. The heat of the blades help the clay to soften up. All the bits of clay can then be combined and worked with in your hands. If the clay is old, or has been exposed to UV light, it may take a very long time to condition which can be annoying and quite tiring. Store your clay in a dark, cool place to avoid this problem. Another technique is to put the clay in a ziploc baggy and let it sit in some warm water for about 20 minutes before working with it, to speed up the conditioning time. You will know the clay is conditioned properly when it doesn't crack or crumble any more.

Pumpkin Carving Tip 2:  Choose the Perfect Pumpkin

First, look for the size and shape pumpkin that will match your design. For example, if you are doing the scary villain from the SCREAM movies, a tall pumpkin would look best. A jolly happy pumpkin (like the one above) looks good on a nice fat pumpkin. Next, make sure the pumpkin is a bright healthy orange and there are no signs of mold. Also check that there are no damage to the skin of the pumpkin, because a small nick will later cause the pumpkin to rot. This is especially important if you pick up your pumpkins in September or early October and expect them to last until Halloween. A nice sturdy stem also helps and looks good. It serves as a good handle for the top of the pumpkin.

Pumpkin Carving Tip 3: Cleaning out the Pumpkin

Spread out some newspapers on the table, and get the garbage can nearby. Although you can cut a hole in the bottom the pumpkin, I still prefer to cut the pumpkin in the traditional way, with the hole on the top of the pumpkin around the stem. You will need a sharp serrated knife for this purpose. Carefully insert the knife, then cut a circle all around the stem.

pumpkin carving
pumpkin carving

When the circle is cut, insert a butter knife, or another sturdy tool (I use a letter opener) into the cut, and pry open the lid. The lid won't come off easily the first time because of all the pumpkin strings attaching the lid to the inside. Then, take the knife and slice off about a half inch of pumpkin skin from the lid of pumpkin to make it nice and clean.

Next you want to clean out the inside. The first step is to reach your hand inside and scoop out the seeds by cupping your hand and running it along the inside of wall of the pumpkin. Put these into a colander/strainer if you are saving them. This is simply the fastest and easiest way to remove the seeds and pumpkin "strings", although you do get your hands dirty!

pumpkin carving
pumpkin carving

Next, "scoop" out the rest of the insides by scraping the inside pumpkin walls with a metal spoon or ice cream scoop. Here's a good pumpkin carving tip: the very best tools to use are ones made for this purpose, try Pumpkin Masters products.  They are shorter so the handle doesn't get in the way. The idea is to remove the inside pumpkin skin, actually carving it away. There are two reasons for this: carving the skin away "cleans" it by leaving a smooth surface with no gooey pumpkin strings, and "thins" out the walls of the pumpkin, which looks best when illuminated. You want to carve away at the inside skin until it is only one inch thick in the front of the pumpkin where the design will be.

pumpkin carving

Pumpkin Carving Tip 4: Preparing the Pumpkin Seeds for Eating

If you have no interest in saving the seeds to eat, feel free to skip this section. But I absolutely LOVE warm pumpkin seeds from the oven and devour them immediately. Rinse those seeds in the colander really well under running tap water. Use your hands and move the seeds around to detach any orange pumpkin guts from sticking to them. This is most easily done by running the pumpkin threads through your fingers and all the seeds will "pop" off. Pick out any orange flesh you may see in the colander.

When they look nice and clean, transfer the seeds to a shallow wide dish of warm water into which a few teaspoons of regular table salt has been added, and let them soak for about 30 minutes. Then, drain the seeds in a colander but do not rinse them. Spread them out in a single layer on an ungreased cookie sheet. Salt them well.

Bake at 250 degrees F for 30 minutes, then move them around with a spatula and try to flip them, and salt them again. Put them back in the oven for another 30 minutes or so. Keep checking, you want them to be really dry and crisp. All signs of moisture should be gone. This sometimes takes more time than 1 hour of baking, but at that low of a temperature it is hard for them to burn. Just don't forget about them! I do this step before I start my carving, so that they are baking while I am working.

When they are done, they will taste crunchy, not chewy, when you bite into them. Eat them warm, they are the best!

Roasted Pumpkin Seed Recipe:

  1. Clean seeds
  2. Soak seeds in salted water for 30 minutes
  3. Drain salted water (do not rinse seeds)
  4. Place seeds on foiled lined baking sheet
  5. Salt seeds well
  6. Bake at 250°F for one hour or until they are dry and crunchy.  Toss them a few times, and be sure to salt them again when you flip them.
  7. Store them in an airtight container

Pumpkin Carving Tip 5: Transferring the Pumpkin Pattern to Your Pumpkin

Many pumpkin carving kits come with a small poker tool to transfer the pattern onto your pumpkin. The idea is to poke tiny holes, in the outline of the pattern, onto your pumpkin. I find this to be very time consuming. Also, it is sometimes hard to make out more intricate patterns when you remove your paper pattern, unless you poked the holes very very close together, which again, takes a ton of time!

Now here's a pumpkin carving tip I want to share: I have found it so much easier to transfer the pattern to the pumpkin using carbon paper. You can still find carbon paper in office supply stores, usually by the typewriter supplies, but just ask someone if you are having trouble finding it. Place the carbon paper under the pattern, as shown below, then cut out the pattern itself. Tape this pattern to the pumpkin. You may have to fold the paper upon itself in some areas to make it flush with the curved pumpkin surface. See the photos below:

pumpkin carving
pumpkin carving
pumpkin carving

Next, using a pointed tool, trace the pattern. Important pumpkin carving tip: YOU NEED TO PRESS HARD! As hard as you can. This gets tough on your hands but I personally still find it faster and easier than poking a bunch of holes. The carbon paper doesn't transfer as easily on pumpkin skin than it does on regular paper. You can use a ball point pen for tracing, or like myself, I used a stylus from my PDA which worked well. When you are finished, remove the pattern. You will see your pattern transferred, although it may be very light. I like to go over it then with a washable marker or ball point pen.

pumpkin carving
pumpkin carving

Pumpkin Carving Tip 6: Carving the Pumpkin

It really, really helps to invest in some pumpkin carving tools. You will use them year after year. They are so easy to use, and relatively inexpensive. Even for simple carvings they make the job much easier with nice clean cuts. I recommend the Pumpkin Masters Carving Kit, (a link to buy this from Amazon is above on the left side of the screen), which include little saws for carving. The saws are easily inserted along one of your pattern lines, and then you "saw" back and forth with the little blade to make the cuts. If you have these little saws, even intricate pumpkin patterns are easy to carve.

To carve little holes, which commonly occur in the character's eyes, a drill comes in handy. Just have a paper towel or tissue ready to soak up some of the juice that will spill out.

Another important pumpkin carving tip: Start carving the tiny sections first. It is important to look at the pattern and figure out what areas will not be supported well by the surrounding pumpkin skin, because these need to be carved out first. As a general rule, you want to carve out the features in the middle of the pumpkin first and then work your way out. Begin by carving out the small tiny features, and leave the large features for last.

pumpkin carving

o remove the cut pumpkin pieces, gently push them out with your thumb so the piece falls inside the pumpkin. If the piece is too tiny for your thumb, find another tool. I find my letter opener works good as a tool in this case too, since it has a pointed, but blunt end. Q-tips, pencils, or toothpicks may also come in handy. If a piece doesn't want to give, don't "over push". Instead, take your saw and cut around the outline again, to make sure everything is a clean cut. Then gently try again. For large pieces, or pieces with a lot of angles, it is best to remove sections at a time to minimize stress on the pumpkin. See the photo below as an example. The mouth was a large piece to remove so I cut it into sections and removed each one at a time.

pumpkin carving

A technique you may see on some pumpkin patterns is carving away the orange pumpkin skin, but leaving the light orange flesh behind (not carving all the way through). This gives an amazing 3D effect when the pumpkin is illuminated. It is a technique used if you make a pumpkin pattern from a photograph, the method I mentioned earlier. To do this, I found the best tool to use is a scalpel or Exacto knife. If not, a small sharp paring knife works too. Outline the shape to be "shaved off" with the blade, digging into the pumpkin flesh about 1 mM to 2 mM. Once you cut out the outline, insert your blade parallel to the pumpkin to cut off, or "scoop out" the layer of skin. Work slowly here. The effect is beautiful.

Pumpkin Carving Tip 7: Fixing Mistakes

If you accidently saw off a tooth of the pumpkin face, or a delicate part that didn't have much support breaks off, you can try to re-insert the pumpkin piece using a toothpick or pin. Just pierce the bottom of the pumpkin piece with a toothpick and pierce the other end of the toothpick through the pumpkin where the piece goes, letting the toothpick be the support.

Pumpkin Carving Tip 8: Preserving Carved Pumpkins

Unfortunately, your pumpkin won't last forever, unless you bought one of those fake carvable pumpkins. But there are a few things you can do to help them last a week or so. First, when the pumpkin is done, rinse it out well, on the inside and the outside. The water will clean it off and get it nice and wet. Then blot the excess water with a paper towel. Keeping the pumpkin moist is key, because shriveling and drying up will cause the design to distort. A daily spritz of water from a spray bottle will help.

Store your pumpkin in the refrigerator if you have the room, when it is not lit. Or, store it in your garage it is cold out. Wrapping it in plastic wrap can also help retain moisture. I do not recommend leaving your carved pumpkins outside when they are not in use, animals love them. I've witnessed a squirrel eating up the cheek of one of my jack-o-lanterns! The pumpkins may also may attract bugs, especially those nasty cockroaches if you live down where its warmer.

Another technique is to soak the pumpkins in a bucket of water daily or once every two days to keep it hydrated. Completely submerge the pumpkin if you have a vessel big enough, and let it soak for awhile. This can also help revive a shriveled pumpkin design, in some instances.

Coating the entire inside of the pumpkin with petroleum jelly will also help retain moisture. Wear rubber gloves to apply, as this stuff is extremely messy and hard to remove from your hards. Apply this to all the cuts you made too. For the tiny openings you can use a Q-tip to apply the jelly.

If you do want something that lasts forever, the fake carvable pumpkins do work well. I tried one for the first time last season, and carved my daughter's faces in it (I have a picture of the finished product in the pumpkin photo gallery, see below if you are interested). The material is a bit harder to carve through for intricate designs, but this is actually better in the long run because it will hold up well. Keep in mind you will have to also purschase a pumpkin light to illuminate it since you cannot use a candle.

Pumpkin Carving Tip 9: Photographing Carved Pumpkins

Now that you went through all that work you will want a good photograph of your jack-o-lantern. Try to take your photograph right away, when it is freshly carved. This is when they look their absolute best.

Another pumpkin carving tip is to always illuminate the pumpkin with a white votive candle. The color white is actually the brightest candle light for the pumpkin and will give the best results. Place the pumpkin in a dark room. Use a tri-pod, if you have one. If not, place your camera on a table or another stable surface. Manually turn the flash OFF.... you do not want to use a flash. Using a higher speed film will also help. Take the photo. If you have to hold the camera, remain as still as possible since the camera will be taking a long exposure to try to take in as much light as possible.

Have fun carving! I hope you have found these pumpkin carving tips helpful! See below for some fun examples of what you carve on pumpkins.

Pumpkin Carving Photos

These are photos of pumpkins I have carved.  I'd love to see your pumpkin photos too!

Freddy Kreuger - by Karen of Crafts For All Seasons
Kiss - by Karen of Crafts For All Seasons
by Karen of Crafts For All Seasons
Mars Attacks - by Karen of Crafts For All Seasons
Sponge Bob - by Karen of Crafts For All Seasons
by Karen of Crafts For All Seasons
by Karen of Crafts For All Seasons
by Karen of Crafts For All Seasons
Angler Fish - by Karen of Crafts For All Seasons

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