Introduction: "Carved" Pumpkin Door Decoration Using Solar Path Lights.
I have always enjoyed carving pumpkins for Halloween, and now that I have a scroll saw, I wanted to make something a little more permanent and unique. I have collected many of the carving pattern books over the years, I have lots of scrap wood, and solar path lights are cheap.
Let's put it all together.
Step 1: Supplies and Tools
I wanted a sort of hollow base to put the LEDs in to act as the inside of the pumpkin and changeable pumpkin fronts so I could "carve" as many patterns as I want and change them as the mood strikes me.
For materials I used:
scrap MDF (Medium-density fiberboard), 1/2" thick
scrap hardboard or HDF (high-density fiberboard), 1/8" thick
--I think I got both of these from an entertainment center that someone threw out on trash day. the MDF was unfinished (no veneer) and the 1/8" hardboard was from the back of the cabinet. Lots of good materials out there on trash day!
2 cheap solar path lights, probably from Menards
spare wire, to extend the LED leads into the "pumpkin" (I used the paired wires from a network cable)
Schmartboard jumpers(I used these so I could replace LEDs easily and troubleshoot solar circuit/battery problems, but you could just solder it all together.
2 spare LEDs from other torn apart path light projects that didn't work out.
Pumpkin carving patterns. I used two from Pumpkin Masters books that I had.
white latex primer
Acrylic paints, for finishing the pumpkin.
Spray paint, flat black, for painting the mounting board.
Double sided tape
3/4" packing tape
Solder & flux as needed
Finishing nails and wood screws, for putting it all together
Tools I used:
Band saw, but you could use a hand saw or jigsaw
Electric drill and bits
Scroll saw, but you could use a jigsaw or coping saw
Rotary tool with very fine spiral bits
Step 2: Preparing the Patterns
I have collected new Pumpkin Masters books almost every year either before Halloween, or during the clearance, post-holiday sales.
For my first attempts I chose two of the easier patterns from the book below (photo 1). I decided that a good size for the door pumpkin would be approximately 8½"-9" maximum for either height or width.
I wanted a little variety so I chose two different pumpkin shapes, one slightly taller and narrower, and one wider but not as tall. This way I can choose the one that fits the pattern the best. I found the pumpkin shapes on a basic Google image search. I sized them to my approx. 9" max. and printed them out with Paint Shop Pro. (Gimp is a free option) They didn't quite fit on one letter sized sheet, so I printed them with index lines across the middle and taped them together after printing. I used spray adhesive to glue the pumpkin blanks to poster board so they would make a better template and then trimmed them with scissors.(photo 2) I decided to leave the stem on the base board to make all the subsequent pumpkins easier to cut and carve and it also gives the final product a more 3-D appearance. I traced one of each onto the 1/8" hardboard and cut them out on the band saw.
The full size patterns from the book would have been too large for my pumpkins, but 90% of full size looked about right for both patterns. I used a photocopier at 90% to make my patterns. NOTE: Always photocopy the patterns from these books so that you can use them over and over and resize as necessary to fit on the pumpkins you have.
I don't know what the best pattern transfer method is, as yet, but here are the two I tried.
For the bat pattern (photo 3), I cut out the "remove" areas with scissors and used double sided tape to attach it to my pumpkin blank. I traced the edges with a pencil and then removed the pattern and tape before cutting on the scroll saw. This worked okay, but the paper was flimsy and sometimes moved around as I tried to trace it. I knew I couldn't just attach the pattern and use the scroll saw through both the paper and the hardboard because the paper would fray as I cut and it would be difficult to follow the lines. Next time I might try copying the pattern onto index card sheets to make it easier to trace.
For the witch pattern (photo 4), I punched all of the dots with a large sewing needle (very time consuming), taped the pattern onto the blank and then traced the pattern lines with a black Sharpie. The Sharpie ink bled through the punched holes (photo 5) and I ended up with a nice pattern of black dots to follow with the scroll saw. As I said, very time consuming to punch the holes, but I liked the result.
Step 3: Cut Out the Patterns.
Now that the patterns are transferred to the pumpkin blanks, let's move to the scroll saw. I found an old Sears scroll saw for $5 at a garage sale a while back and was fortunate to find new blades for it. Use the smallest drill bit that will allow the blade to be threaded through (and the pin, as in my case, if your scroll saw uses pinned blades). Drill a hole inside all the areas that need to be cut out, either in the center of an area or near a pattern line, to make it easier to start your cuts. Thread the blade through the hole and reconnect to your saw. (photo 1: Sorry I didn't take a photo at the time, but the photo shows the technique with the already cut and painted pumpkin) Cut each area, turn off the saw, move your blade to the next hole and repeat until you are done. I recommend cutting the smaller areas first, and always support areas with both hands so that you don't vibrate some smaller parts loose as you cut around them. You could also use a jigsaw or a RotoZip or a Dremel-type tool. Some very narrow areas were too narrow to use the drill bit/scroll saw method and I did use my rotary tool with a fine spiral bit to start and make some of the cuts. After cutting, I smoothed, cleaned up, and worked into the tight corners with various fine hand files.
Photo 2 shows same 1/8" hardboard I used to cut the pumpkins and also the bat pumpkin, cut, sanded, and primed. Photo 3 shows the witch pumpkin likewise prepared. Next I painted painted both pumpkins orange with 2-3 coats of orange acrylic paint from Michaels. (photo 4)
I roughed out a paper blank that will fit inside the lines of both pumpkin fronts (photos 5 & 6). This will be the pattern for the pumpkin base, made in the next step. It needs to be as large as possible to cover any cut pattern, but be smaller than the two different pumpkin fronts so that it is hidden behind.
Step 4: Cut and Assemble the Base.
I took my base pumpkin pattern, added the stem (which will line up with either tall or squat pumpkin) and traced it onto and cut it out of another piece of 1/8" hardboard. This salvaged piece happened to be painted black on both sides but that won't matter as the stem will be painted green and the rest will be sandwiched between two layers of 1/2" MDF.
After I had cut out the 1/8" stem piece, I temporarily tacked it on top of a piece of the 1/2" MDF with two finish nails and followed the outline of the stem piece with the band saw to make a 1/2" thick copy. While they were still tacked together, I cut in at a point at the bottom and worked around with the band saw until I could follow the outer edge around about 3/8" in. (photo 1)
I cut another piece of 1/2" MDF for the base board. This board needs to be the width of the base pumpkin (7 7/8" in my case) and 13" high, to leave room to mount the solar cells below the pumpkin. I placed the pumpkin shape from above on the board at the top and traced the top curve of the pumpkin on it, cutting it out on the band saw.
Now I have a sandwich of one bottom 1/2" mounting board, one 1/8" outer pumpkin ring with stem, and one top 1/2" outer pumpkin ring. (photo 2) I roughed up the black painted surfaces of the stem board with sandpaper so that I could glue and paint. I used wood glue to glue the sandwich together, allowed it time to dry, scraped off the excess glue and sanded up the outer edges. (photo 3)
Now I have a mounting board with a 5/8" hollow area that will hold the LEDs and be covered with whatever cut and painted pattern I choose.
Step 5: Prepare and Paint the Base.
I had a center line drawn on my base board and I picked a place where the solar cells looked good and centered and marked their location. (photo 1) I drilled holes in the center of the solar cell locations for the wires to pass to the back of the board and smaller ones directly above and just inside the pumpkin shape for the wires to return into the pumpkin to power the LEDs. (photo 2) Next I cut a shallow v-groove from each lower hole to its upper hole on the back of the base board to allow the wires to be hidden and the base board to remain flush to the surface I hang it on. (photo 3) I used my router with a v shaped bit, but a groove in MDF could be easily cut with a utility knife or chisels.
Finally I covered the stem with masking tape and taped a piece of paper over the pumpkin opening, and used flat black spray paint to paint the base. After this dried, I painted the interior of the pumpkin shape with yellow acrylic craft paint and the stem with green. I am hoping the yellow interior will help reflect the white LEDs and give them a warmer colored light.
Step 6: Prepare the Solar Path Lights and Test the LEDs
I took the solar panel/circuit/LED off of the spike and removed the clear diffuser. (photo 1) I removed the 2 screws and the plastic back to expose the circuitry and then the small screw to release the circuit panel. I noted which way the LED was wired relative to the edge of the board, put a Sharpie mark on the outer edge of the board, de-soldered the LED, and made another Sharpie mark on the LED leg that was nearest the edge. I soldered in a pair of Cat5 wires into the LED holes. I made the wires long enough to pass through the base board, up the back side and back into the interior of the pumpkin and reach up the sides. (photo 2) I also drilled two holes in the available corners in the back cover for screws to mount the fixtures to the base board.
I plan to use another salvaged LED with each solar circuit and space the right 2 LEDs along the right side of the the interior of the pumpkin base and the same with the left side. I decided to double the LEDs after seeing this hack from BigClive explaining that two LEDs in series would draw less current and hopefully last a little longer than the original single one.
I wanted the setup to be fairly easy to open back up and service if I have problems, such as having to replace a rechargeable battery or replace an LED. I found these Schmartboard jumper wires at Radio Shack. They will just push onto the legs of the LEDs so the LEDs can be easily replaced. (photo 3) The 2 LEDs on each circuit will be wired in series so one jumper wire is intact to run from one anode to the other cathode and one jumper wire cut in half (photo 4) and soldered to the wire ends. Use heat shrink tubing or electrical tape to cover the soldered connections. (photo 6) Be sure you are careful to attach the positive jumper from the battery to the LED pair anode and the the negative jumper wire to the LED pair cathode.
Step 7: Finish It Up.
I ran the wires up along the inside edge of the pumpkin. Again, I want to be able to fix problems as they come up, so instead of hot glue or something permanent, I tried to space them evenly along each side and used 3/4" packing tape to tape the wires.
Time to test it. The batteries were charged up so I turned off the light and success. (photo 2)
I couldn't come up with an elegant and completely invisible temporary way to mount the thin pumpkin fronts, but I decided that the heads of three 4D size finish nails, once they were painted orange too, wouldn't be much of a distraction. I drilled three holes in the narrow edge, completely through the base, sized for a snug fit for the nails, two at the top and one bottom center. I pushed the nails through from the back of the base so that the sharp points were proud of the front, lined up the pumpkin face where I wanted it and lightly tapped the face so that the nails marked the exact spots I needed to drill. (photo 3) I drilled the same snug holes through the face, shortened three finish nails so that they would not stick out the back side and pushed them through from the front, lining up the holes. (photo 4) Using this method, I can always get the front of any new pattern centered right where it looks the best.
I turned off the lights again, and the final product looks good. (photo 5)
Step 8: Final Photos and Thoughts.
I am excited that this worked so well. I only hope the solar cells and circuits last, and the pumpkin stays lit for at least a few hours each night.
Here are some final photos with the whole thing hanging on my front door, with the nail heads painted the same orange so they are less noticeable.
One thing I may try is to try to paint or draw on some of the longitudinal pumpkin crease lines to make them look a little more realistic. I think maybe just a tiny bit of brown paint mixed with some of the orange would make a darker orange that I could use to paint on thin highlight (or rather lowlight) lines on the pumpkin front. Perhaps I could find a color of Sharpie that would work. This would be best done before any cutting is done so that they look uniform and more authentic. This would mean painting the blank before any cutting is done, but that should be okay, with just the inner pattern edges and some touch ups needed after cutting. I will probably not get another done in time for this Halloween, but when I do my next one I will put up some photos.
You will notice that on the finished bat pattern (photo 2) that the taped wires can be seen through the pattern in daylight. This could be corrected two ways, as I see it. First, now that I have the final dimensions of the base, I should be more careful with what percentage I shrink the patterns on the photocopier so that they don't show through the front. Second, since there is some room under the front pumpkin, I could run the wires just up the outside edge of the hollow part of the base and drill holes so that only the LEDs poke through into the interior, or carve out more shallow recesses on the back of the base board for the wires and again drill holes so that only the LEDs poke through from the back. I could even try both and see what works better since I didn't make any of the LED mounting permanent.
I like the effect of the patterns being lit around the edges, but since we are used to a candle in the center of the pumpkin, maybe I will try to find a diffuser that I can put in the center of the base and place the LEDs behind it for a more traditional look. Maybe yellow tissue paper formed into a slight dome across the whole interior of the base with the LEDs behind it. Well, that can be for next year.
I hope you like this and are inspired to think outside the pumpkin, as it were.