Introduction: Crash Course in Pumpkin Carving + Tips/Tricks

Picture of Crash Course in Pumpkin Carving + Tips/Tricks

Halloween is one of my absolute favorite holidays! It is a DIY-ers heaven with all the amazing aspects we can be creative in. As a kid, every year my family carved pumpkins using pre-made stencils and while that was fun, a couple years ago I discovered the much more exciting world of creative pumpkin design. I found super original designs like pumpkins inside pumpkins, 3D carved pumpkins, and so much more. And now I'd like to share this world with you!

Here, I teach you all the basics from how to carve a pumpkin with the most simple faces to the most daunting 3D carvings and show you how to minimize on both cost and frustration along the way.

Hope you enjoy! :)

psst... if you liked this instructable, please consider voting me up in the contests I entered. Thanks! <3

Step 1: Table of Contents

If you are looking to improve your skills in a specific area of pumpkin carving, skip over to the corresponding step:

Step 2-11: Basic Pumpkin Carving

Step 12-15: 3D Carving

Step 16: Preservation Techniques

Step 17: Recipes

Step 2: Basic Pumpkin Carving: Materials

If you have never carved a pumpkin before (If so, welcome! You're going to have so much fun! <3) or just need a refresher on your skills, you've come to the right place:

You will need:

- A stencil or a creative idea!

Pintrest and Google images are great places to find inspiration and free printable stencils

-A pumpkin

Find a pumpkin that will fit the size of your stencil or can handle the power of your creative idea! Keep in mind that pumpkins come in many different shapes, sizes, colors, and patterns depending on the species of pumpkin. For example is if you are carving a ghost you could look into a "Baby Boo" variety of pumpkin which is white etc. You don't always have to conform to the basic perfect orange pumpkin ;)

-A basic carving set

You really can't carve a pumpkin without your basic carving set, especially if you are a beginner. You can find these at your local crafts stores. At the minimum it should include: a small and big cutting tool, a "poker", and a pumpkin gut scooper.

-Disposable gloves

If you hate having to wash your pumpkin goop covered hands all the time, invest in a pack of disposable gloves. You can find these at your local pharmacy store.

-A trash bag

To protect your working space from pumpkin goop.

-A large bowl

To put the pumpkin goop in.

Step 3: Basic Pumpkin Carving: Tools

Picture of Basic Pumpkin Carving: Tools

As I mentioned before your going to need a basic carving set including:

A small and big cutting tool: Looks like a little serrated blade attached to a handle. Used to cut out the design.

A "poker": Looks like a little plastic handle attacked to a poking tip. It is used to mark out your stencil so it is easier to cut latter.

And a pumpkin gut scooper: It should look like a big flattened spoon and is used to scoop out pumpkin guts in preparation for carving.

But their are other tools that your set could include like:

A marker: Like the poker, used to mark out your design. It is usually water soluble so it is easy to wipe off the pumpkin surface but I often find it disappearing because of the moisture of the pumpkin goop.

A rolling poker (as I call it): Looks like a handle attached to a wheel of pokers. Again a marking tool mainly for straight lines. I personally never use it.

Step 4: Basic Pumpkin Carving: Setup

Picture of Basic Pumpkin Carving: Setup

Before you go on, make sure you have a clean working space that you are not afraid to accidentally get dirty. (I prefer to do this outside)

Use the trash bag as a table cloth and put your bowl, tools and pumpkin on top of it.

If you want, make a hole in another garbage can or paper towel and put it over the pumpkin to protect it from the excess goop.

Clean the surface of the pumpkin with a damp cloth.

Step 5: Basic Pumpkin Carving: Making the Lid

Picture of Basic Pumpkin Carving: Making the Lid

Now put on your gloves and prepare for a small mess!

If you've never made a jack-o-lantern before, the first step is always to empty out the pumpkin's guts: you need the inside to be dry to best prevent mold and to have space for the candle.

To do this we first need to make a lid: an opening in the top of the pumpkin that we can fit our hand through to empty the guts and that we can close back up. (see picture)

Take your biggest knife tool and cut a circle around the pumpkin stem, keeping your blade at a slight angle away from it. (This is so that when you put the lid back on, it doesn't fall through.)

Before you finish cutting the circle, cut a 'key' (see picture). A key is a shape that will make it easy for you position the door when closing it.

Step 6: Basic Pumpkin Carving: Emptying the Guts

Picture of Basic Pumpkin Carving: Emptying the Guts

Put the "door" aside and make sure your hand fits in the opening you have created. Usually when you first lift up the lid, the pumpkin walls will seem super thick. Don't worry, you can take your cutter and cut away at the meat of the walls to make the hole bigger. You will also need to cut some of the guts off of the lid.

Use you hands to get the bulk of the goop out and put it into the bowl. After it gets hard to get anything with your hands, take the scooper and start scraping the sides of the pumpkin to get all the goop off the sides. After a while goop from the sides should have collected in the bottom of the pumpkin. Use your hands to take it our and put it in the bowl.

Keep scraping and putting the goop and seeds into a bowl until the inside is almost completely free of it. This will take a pretty long time, but the more goop you get out, the longer your pumpkin will last without rotting.


Take your bowl of goop, separate the seeds and the goop and put both in plastic bags in the fridge. You don't waste any part of the pumpkin and they can be used later to make delicious pumpkin dishes!

Fun fact: In early colonial times, pumpkins were used as an ingredient for the crust of pies, not the filling.

Step 7: Basic Pumpkin Carving: Stenciling

Picture of Basic Pumpkin Carving: Stenciling

Give the outside of your pumpkin another wipe to get off some residual goop, and choose the shapeliest most photogenic side of the pumpkin to begin translating your stencil (or your creative idea!) to. If your pumpkin has a tilt, the side that is the best to carve is usually the one tilting away from you so your design will be more visible.

Now is a good time to get your creative idea (if you are using one) onto paper. Make sure all the elements of your design are thick enough or have enough support so that they don't accidentally fall or break off.

Use tape to secure your stencil to the chosen side of the pumpkin. The stencil I used is from http://coolest-free-printables.com/2013/02/03/prin.... It may be hard to tape the flat paper to a round pumpkin but you can crease it a little bit to make it work.

Now, Use a poker to poke along the line of the design, transferring it to the face of the pumpkin. Make sure your holes are on the side of the line that you will be cutting off later so that they aren't visible on the final product.

Step 8: Basic Pumpkin Carving: Outlining

Picture of Basic Pumpkin Carving: Outlining

When you lift off the paper, the dots you have created may be hard to figure out, so I like to out line them with a water washable marker to make it clear where everything is.

To make sure you know what you are cutting, shade in the parts you will be cutting out.

Step 9: Basic Pumpkin Carving: Cutting

Picture of Basic Pumpkin Carving: Cutting

Now take the small cutter and cut along the line moving the cutter quickly up and down. Keep your cutter as perpendicular to the face of the pumpkin as possible. Use your fingers to help push out the material you've cut off.

Additionally, to get a better cut, don't cut everything in one cut. When you reach a sharp corner, take out the blade and re-insert it at the different angle to get a crisp corner.

Unfortunately, while I was cutting the tip of my "E" fell off. But don't worry! If this happens to you it is very easy to fix with a simple toothpick. Good as new!

~ It was rainy outside so I used an umbrella to protect my pumpkin in the first picture :)

Step 10: Basic Pumpkin Carving: Candle

Picture of Basic Pumpkin Carving: Candle

Once you are done cutting everything out, you are done with the bulk of the work! If you want learn how to preserve your pumpkin to make it last through Halloween go to Step 14.

The final touch is to put the candle in your pumpkin. If you are using a real candle, make sure you make a couple holes in the lid of your pumpkin so the smoke can escape safely and you avoid burning the lid.

Set the pumpkin out in front of your house, or put it as a decoration inside and enjoy the fruits of your hard work! :D

*candle picture NOT mine! found it here on the internet here: http://roshchodeshnewmoon.com/?p=376*

Step 11: Basic Pumpkin Carving: Apply Your Skills

Now you can get into cooler designs by applying these skills.

Put a carved pumpkin inside another carved pumpkin's mouth.

Use paints to paint your pumpkin

Get inspired by all the other great Halloween instructables!

~ Stick around to learn how to do 3D Pumpkin Carving, or head on over to Step 15 to learn some recipes to make use of the pumpkin guts we set aside earlier. :)

Step 12: 3D Pumpkin Carving: Tools

Picture of 3D Pumpkin Carving: Tools

Hello there!

Welcome! I'm glad you made it to the 3D pumpkin carving section: the world of beautiful, artsy and amazing pumpkin carving.

Remember it's pretty important to get a good thick walled pumpkin for these types of carving!

First lets go over the tools:

You can either invest in a professional 3D pumpkin carving set or use these cheap but functional substitutes:

1) A Peeler

2) The scooper from a basic set

3) A spoon (preferably metal)

4) A small skewer

5) Any clay sculpting tools

6) A craft knife

Anything that can be used to scrape away at the pumpkin can be used in some way on a 3D carving. You will need tools that range from big (like the peeler) to small (like the skewer).

Step 13: 3D Pumpkin Carving: Insiration

Picture of 3D Pumpkin Carving: Insiration

Again, you may be the most skillful pumpkin carver out their but if you don't have a creative idea, your pumpkin won't be very special. Look to Pinterest, Google images, and right here on Instructables for ideas and inspiration.

Follow the same steps listed in the basic pumpkin carving section till you get to the stenciling. Most 3D carvers use an external reference or just carve from their imagination, as it is very hard to apply a pattern directly onto the pumpkin for a 3D carving.

(the first image is the pumpkin I made last year, combining 3D and 2D skills. :D)

Step 14: 3D Pumpkin Carving: Carving

Once you have established an idea and have set up your workstation with all your tools, start by using the peeler to remove the skin off of the part of the pumpkin you will be 3D carving.

Look at your plan. Where are the high points and the low points? Start by defining your lowest points by removing the pumpkin material with smaller tools like a spoon, screwdriver, or craft knife as you reveal your design.

Be aware of the thickness of the pumpkin wall so you don't accidentally break through. Also remember that the lower a feature is, the brighter it will glow. I have see this fact lead to many interesting designs vary the color of their images by varying the depth of their cut.

Now you can use a smaller scraper like the tip of a skewer to carve out smaller details.

For some parts you can leave the pumpkin skin on and carve out underneath it to create the effect of hanging hair or peeling skin. (See the pictures in the next step)

Most importantly, Let you Imagination Fly!

~and don't forget to put a candle in at the end :)

Step 15: 3D Pumpkin Carving: Techniques Overview

Picture of 3D Pumpkin Carving: Techniques Overview

See pictures:

If you can't reed my handwriting (I'm sorry!): this is what they read:

Card #1:

1) Identify low points

2) Scrape Main Area

3) Scrape Details

Card #2:

4) To create hair, use a craft knife to scrape underneath a thin portion of the skin but leave it attached to the top.

Card #3

Details in faces:

- plan what you want

- start by removing material around your high points (example: tip of nose, the teeth, pupil)

Card #4

Now, make you low points even lower. You want to create very high contrast between your highs and lows. (Inside of mouth and inside of eyes are usually the lowest points -- [which is good because you want them to glow the brightest])

Step 16: All Pumpkin Art: Preservation

Pumpkin art may be beautiful but it can only last so long.

There are many ways to make your pumpkin last longer.

My favorite method is to mix bleach half and half with water and and spray it onto the inside and outside of my pumpkin.

Other methods include (though I have not tried all of them):

- keeping the pumpkin in your refrigerator.

- using a commercial pumpkin spray.

- using a thin layer of petroleum jelly.

Step 17: Pumpkin Recipies

Picture of Pumpkin Recipies

Remember the pumpkin seeds and pumpkin guts that you set aside at the beginning?

Now we can put these to use!

Here are some great recipes I found on the internet:

Pumpkin seeds (I personally like to add cinnamon and sugar on top to make them sweet):

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/13768/roasted-pumpkin...

Pumpkin Pie (blend the pumpkin guts and substitute them for the canned pumpkin in the recipe -- this is better if you are carving a sweet pumpkin specifically made for pumpkin pies):

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/23439/perfect-pumpkin...

Further readings:

Have you ever wondered why we carve pumpkins every year? I found this article very interesting, and if you have some time I hope you will too:

http://www.history.com/topics/halloween/jack-olant...

Enjoy and Happy Halloween!

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