Introduction: It's the Pie Tin Great Pumpkin

Hey Charlie Brown fans, this project features a giant pumpkin's face carved into lighted pie tin reflectors. The pie tins are illuminated with two (2) strands of GE Color Effects color-changing LED holiday lights bulbs. The front string of iTwinkle GE lights is set to constant orange color, representing the 2D circular body of the pumpkin. Then, like a candle inside a real pumpkin, a second strand of GE lights is placed behind the pumpkin's body to provide an animated light show in the eyes, nose, and mouth which were carved into the seven central pie tins.

Caution- this pumpkin has a wild side. Please see video for the Halloween night ghost bustin' light show, with the pumpkin changing colors in sync with MP3 music..

This new project is most closely related to my prior Pie Tin Wreath Instructables project. The pumpkin body was made by filling in the middle "donut hole" area of the wreath with yet more pie tins. I wish I could say that no pie tins were injured in the building of this project, but repair and reuse tips for pie tins are provided.


  • 8-inch Pie Tins (7)
  • 9-inch Pie Tins (12)
  • GE Color Effects Holiday Lighting Stands (2)
  • Backing Board (corrugated plastic board and/or poster board used here)
  • Duct Tape (regular and aluminum metal style)
  • Scotch Tape-Frosted (light diffuser for the eyes, nose, mouth)
  • Green EL Light Strand (used to make a lighted stem for the top of the pumpkin)
  • Hanging supplies (wood block with eye hook)
  • X-Acto craft knife

Step 1: Overview of Pie Tin Reflector Concept

The pie tin reflector "hack" has been used by DIY hobbyists for many years. The pie tin Christmas Tree is the most common example, which may have been popularized in a 1950's how-to article (eg; Popular Mechanics?). If anyone has more pie tin reflector history, please let me know.

The general idea is to find a way to insert the light bulb through the center of the pie tin as shown. Typically you start with a holiday light string that allows each individual bulb to be removed from its base. You then place the bulb through a pie tin and backing board, both with appropriate sized holes to allow the bulb to be re-inserted into the base. This basic approach must be adapted for different types and brands of holiday light bulbs.

Pie tin Instructables from me include the Christmas Tree, Hanukkah Menorah, New Year's Eve Time Ball, Holiday Wreath, and now the Great Pumpkin.

Step 2: Choose Holiday Lights (GE Color Changing LED Lights)

The GE Color Effects light strings are featured in all of my pie tin Instructables, due to their outstanding bright colors. .

For the front string of lights, I am using the prior Bluetooth iTwinkle version of the GE lights (G-35 bulb size), which allows custom color selection via a color wheel. This version also allows the lights to "dance" in sync with MP3 music. . Another way to get the Orange color capability would be to use the prior WiFi iTwinkle version of the GE lights. These several years ago GE light strings are usually available (used) on EBay during the holidays. The other option would be to use a different manufacturers Orange color bulbs for Halloween.

For the second GE light strand, I am using a GE Color Effects string (G-35 bulb size) with push button control of color provide the back light for the eyes, nose and mouth.

All of the GE light strings I have used to date work well with a 1-inch hole in the pie tin and backing board. The individual bulbs of the GE Lights "snap" out of and back into the base. Sometimes a homemade tool as shown helps to get the leverage needed to remove or "snap" the bulbs out of the base. Carefully apply pressure to snap the bulbs back in. Sometimes I lubricate the bulb fitting with soap bar or thin vegetable oil layer.

Parenthetically, GE's apparently sells these light strings under a license from Nicolas Holiday Company.

Step 3: Prepare the Pie Tins

The Hefty or Reynolds E-Z Foil Pie Pans for 9-inch recipes look great as reflectors for the GE Color Effects bulbs. These 9-inch pie tins are the ones with the 8-point "star" shape in the middle. The smaller 8-inch pie tins have the "hub and spoke" design in the middle. I am recycling old pie tins, so I am not quite sure where I got those. I believe they are Jiffy Foil 8-inch pie pans (see Amazon) or equivalent.

The E-Z Foil 9-inch pie tins are actually 8-3/4 inch inner diameter (inside the rim), which allows spacing them exactly 9-inches apart in this project. Using an X-Acto knife or equivalent, cut a 1-inch diameter hole in the center of each pie tin. I usually use a Washington quarter or a dollar coin as guide for cutting the center hole. A total of 12x9-inch pie tins are used in a circular pattern resembling a giant clock.

The seven smaller 8-inch pie tins are prepared in the similar manner with center holes.

Note:Aluminum pie tins seem harder to find this year in the grocery stores (presumably due to COVID-related aluminum can demands). Luckily, older pie tins can be re-used for many years for pie tin reflector art. The more bent up your pie tins become, the better they look when lighted up at night (within limits).. Sometimes the center hole becomes damaged, but this is easily fixed by using Aluminum duct tape (Walmart). Simply apply several layers- use one layer of aluminum tape on the front of the pie tin, and a second lay on the back, and re-carve the center hole or make any other needed repair.

Step 4: Build the Pumpkin's Backing Board

My economical approach is to re-use the same circular backing board (and pie tins) for different holidays.

Therefore I started with the circular backing board from the prior Pie Tin Wreath Instructable. The circular shape for the wreath was cut out of a 4x4-ft piece of white corrugated plastic (Home Depot). See my prior Instructable for those instructions (per link below).

I then filled in the wreath's middle "donut" hole area by taping over a large piece of poster board (Elmer's Tri-Fold Foam Presentation Board/Walmart) onto the rear of the wreath board, as shown. Excess poster board (obstructing any 1-inch holes on the corrugated plastic board) was trimmed away with an XActo knife. Because the poster board is much easier to carve (for the eyes/nose/mouth), that is a good choice of backing material for the center of the display.

Next I simply placed the seven 8-inch pie tins in the center area, as shown, and marked the location of the 1-inch holes for cutting via XActo knife. I then painted the backing board orange using Pumpkin Orange .(Apple Barrel Matte Acrylic/Walmart) to provide some degree of water-resistance to the poster board.

Note that the hanging orientation of the pie tin pumpkin is slightly off-center compared to the pie tin wreath, which necessitates a slightly different location of the hanging hardware (eg; eye hook) on the back of the display. My typical hanging set-up is shown above.

Step 5: Carving the Eyes, Nose, Mouth Features

This step is optional. If you just want to make a large pie tin pumpkin shape with no face carved in, you can stop here. The picture above shows what that simpler project looks like in your yard.

For those readers moving forward with the carving:

The steps for carving "windows" in the pie tins and poster board (for the eye, nose and mouth in the pie tins) is as follows:

  1. Draw the desired design shape on the pie tin, then cut it out with an XActo knife and scissors
  2. Place the modified pie tin on the backing board in its proper location, and trace out then carve the shape
  3. Cover the hole in the rear of the poster board with frosted Scotch tape (acts as LED light diffuser)

I usually secure these special design pie tins onto the backing board with double-stick tape or spray adhesive, to keep the pie tin design carve-out aligned with the window in the poster board.

Step 6: Insert Light Strings and Pie Tins

Now it's time to (1) insert the orange light bulbs into the pie ties, and (2) place a second lighting string behind the backing board to provide indirect lighting for the eyes, noise, and mouth.

There are a couple of simple tricks:

First of all, you need to avoid placing any wires or light bubs over the carved-out windows for the eyes, nose and mouth (otherwise the observer will see them). Use duct tape to secure the light string wiring where you want it to go. In some places (eg; the pumpkin's mouth) you may need to skip a bulb, to allow enough slack. Some twists and turns in the wiring may be needed (per pictures above).

The second trick concerns the second GE Color Effects light string, which is providing back-light for the eyes, nose and mouth. If you study GE's automated light show sequences, you will note that historically GE uses a number of 3-light chase sequences. So the trick here is to group the light bulbs in paired groups of 3 behind each cut out. The video above shows how the lights are attached in groups of three.

You will end up with a minor mess of duck tape and light strings, which is hidden in the back of the display as shown. You will also end up with unused light bulbs and/or unused empty light bulb sockets, which need to be covered up to prevent any stray light from distracting from the display. Aluminum duct tape (Walmart) is handy for covering up unused bulbs and sockets. .

The final step here is to add a "reflector" behind each cut out to better illuminate the eyes, nose, and mouth. For this purpose, I used 8.5 x 11-inch white foam sheets (eg "FOAMIES" /Walmart). These sheets were secured to the back of the display by, of course, with yet more duct tape.

Step 7: Add a Green Stem Topper

Optional step, but I used green EL wire to make an illuminated green stem. I took a spare piece of white corrugated plastic, and shaped it like a stem. I drilled holes to thread the EL light string as shown.

The stem was painted green with .green glow-in-the dark acrylic craft paint (Apple Barrel craft paint/Walmart). However, it turns out that the glow-in-the-dark feature is unnoticeable.

The EL wire is powered via a small lithium battery and a small transformer (

The stem is a stand-alone feature that is affixed to the to the display via the 1-ft plastic tab at the top of the "wreath" (eg; with a binder clip).

Step 8: Development Story of the Pie Tin Pumpkin

I struggled for several years to develop a good pie tin PUMPKIN design for Halloween.

My first attempts were spherical shapes. At first I built a huge paper mache sphere, but that was re-purposed as the Great LED Light Bulb Pumpkin Instructable.. That project showed the effectiveness of using carved cut-outs for indirect LED lighting for the eyes, nose and mouth of a pumpkin shape.

Still working on the spherical shape, my next pumpkin was a giant 32-sided "soccer ball" made out of poster board and pie tins. That design made more sense to use for the New Year's Pie Tin Time Ball Instructable. This project featured the idea of carved pie tin numerals.

As an artistic decision, I finally decided that a flat surface is the best way for the pie tin reflections to hit your eye "like a big pizza pie".

Recently I realized that the central "donut" hole of the Pie Tin Wreath Instructable could be filled in with slightly smaller 8-inch pie tins to make a fully lighted pie tin circle. The carved eyes, nose and mouth features were added last to jazz up the display, and to see if the carve-out shape technique could be made to work as well on a flat 2D display board.

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