Introduction: Pumpkin Carving: Professional Results With Power Tools

About: I'm an Industrial Technology Teacher specializing in woodworking and CAD. I enjoy trying new things and always try do do things outside of my comfort zone, how else can you get better.

The last couple years I have fallen in love with carving pumpkins. Its easy to work with, and cheap enough to not make a guy cry if you mess up. I started with the pumpkin carving kits, which I still use a lot.

When I wanted to try my hand at shading and adding depth to pumpkins I needed a different tool.  I started by trying my wood carving tools. This worked, but was slow and tedious work. In comes the Dremel tool. Its easy to use, not horribly loud, and makes quick work of turning the pumpkin into mush.

I REALLY wanted to do this 2 weeks ago, but the pumpkins just don't last that long with out getting saggy, mushy, moldy, or a combination of the 3. Hopefully you can make use of this Instructable to make your masterpiece.

Follow along as I try to show the steps I took to make a pumpkin the neighbors will be envious of.

Step 1: Find and Draw Your Pattern

Start simply, with objects that don't have 5 different shading levels. I still have not attempted a real persons face. I'm sure I can, I'm just chicken.

I started with the robot. It's reasonably simple shading wise, but detailed enough to be impressive in the end. The nice thing about shading is you don't HAVE to do it to make it look good, but it does add to the wow factor.

If you can draw halfway decent you can just use a permanent marker to make a pattern right on the pumpkin.

If you can't draw well, print out the design you like, and tape it to the pumpkin. You can use an old ball point pen to make shallow pokes along the paper pattern and go back later and connect the dots.

How ever you do it, have fun. You can't grow your skills, or find new ones, if you don't step outside your comfort zone.

Step 2: Oops

What happens when you make a mistake with permanent marker? I mean it doesn't wipe off....right?

Its not as big of a problem as you might think. All you need to do is find some sunscreen, rub it on the mistake for a few seconds, and wipe it off. You may have to scrub slightly, but it works well.

This also works well if "friends" draw on you while your "sleeping", or if your kids color all over themselves.

Picture 1 - I didn't like how the com was sticking out farther
Picture 2 - I used the sunscreen used by my kids, rubbed it on with my finger, and wiped it off with a kleenex
Picture 3 - You can just see a ghost image, but it was good enough for me.
Picture 4 - The ready to carve pattern

Step 3: Gather Your Tools

You will need these tools as a start, you may have some tool you love using, so by all means, use what your comfortable with.

Pumpkin with pattern
Large garbage recepticle
Tray of some kind to use as table top
Pumpkin carving kit scraper
Pumpkin carving kit cutting tool
Dremel tool with drywall cutting bit. I'm sure others would work, but this works well for me.
Heavy duty soup spoon

Step 4: Cleaning Out the Pumpkin

Everyone knows how to do this step, but I do it differently than most.

Using the carving kit cutting tool, I make the normal round top cut with an extension that goes down the back. This makes access so much easier for cleaning out and lighting your candle. Be sure to bevel to top slightly so it can't fall inside.

Once you get the bulk of the seeds and "gross" stuff out, you need to keep scraping. You want to get all of the excess thickness out of it. I stopped somewhere around 3/4 - 1 inch thick. More complex carvings might need more thickness, but generally you don't want less than this amount. You may find that the soup spoon works best for you (as long as the pumpkin is large enough for it).

Step 5: Starting the Carving

I elected to start with the letters first. Its always a good idea to start with what you think will be the easiest part to get your confidence up and get comfortable with the process.

You only need to remove just the skin at this point. You can go a little deeper if you would like, but I tend to save that until later.

After I made my way all the way around with the letters, I turned off the lights to admire my handy work. This requires the use of the flashlight inside the pumpkin to highlight your masterpiece.

From this point forward I usually elect to work in the dark. It makes it much easier to gauge the depth of cut and you really can see what your doing much better than you would think. I do usually keep a small flashlight in my hand so I can turn it on and see important things, like the power switch on the Dremel, or my beverage.

I moved on to the body of the Instructables robot, being as careful as possible to leave the lines there. You wont always leave these lines, but in this case I did because they really did add to the pumpkin tremendously. i.e facial details

Usually I tend to keep the Dremel tool pretty straight up and down, but when doing large areas or very detailed work, I will tip it to the side. WARNING: this is messy messy stuff, so wear appropriate clothes and safety glasses. Mine were speckled when completed and dried pumpkin rubs off of clothes easy enough.

At this point I am only interested in getting through the skin. I am not trying to get to any certain depth. The last picture shows what the pumpkin looks like with only skin removed. Really this is still pretty impressive in the dark and you could totally stop here if you wanted.

I elected to keep going and see if I could achieve shading

Step 6: Finishing the Carving

Rules for shading are as follows

1. If you want it to be lighter, go deeper
2. If you want it to be darker, keep it shallow.
3. You can't undo mistakes, only make them less bad

I tried to imagine what the robot would look like with light hitting it. The areas where the sun hits hardest would be brightest, and thus lightest (thinnest). I just kept working one area at a time (body, face etc) until I achieved the detail I was going for.

This step creates a lot of pumpkin mush you will have to remove. I usually use a finger or the handle end of my spoon. If I'm really having trouble ill bring out a squirt bottle to wash it out.

After I was happy with the robot, I returned to the letters to lighten (deepen) them

This shading step took me by far the longest, but to me was the most rewarding.

Start to finish for me took a little under an hour. This was my first carving of the season, so I should be faster for each additional one I do.

Step 7: Final Product and Other Examples

The last step before display is to wash the pumpkin. You will have a lot of mush in tight places to get rid of.

If using a candle you will need to have 2 additional holes. One toward the bottom for air intake, and one directly above the candle for a "chimney". To find this location, burn a candle for a few minutes until carbon forms on the pumpkin, and cut that area out.

This picture was taken with a birthday candle as a light source...a couple candles would probably be better, or an LED would be best.

The additional pumpkins are from last year.

Hope you enjoyed my Instructable. Have fun and let your creative juices flow.

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