Introduction: The Halloween Pumpkin-Carving Guide

Happy Halloween, fellow reader!

Every Halloween, I ritualistically carve a pumpkin and sacrifice its innards to the Halloween gods. Typically, I try carving increasingly complex patterns each year to improve my skill. Now that I'm a member of Instructables, I decided it would be a good idea to share with you some of the methods that I use and some tips I've learned along the way.

WARNING- The following Instructable contains graphic images of pumpkins being gutted, skinned, and carved. If you are a pumpkin, you may wish to stop reading now.

Step 1: Materials and Tools

Here's what you'll need:

  • A large serrated knife
  • A smaller knife for peeling the pumpkin, or an x-acto knife
  • Large spoon for removing the pumpkin guts
  • A sharpie
  • A needle
  • Scissors
  • A pumpkin carving knife
  • A candle
  • A pumpkin
  • Duct tape or scotch tape

Step 2: In Which the Author Lobotomizes a Pumpkin

As with any pumpkin carving, the first step is to gut the pumpkin. To do this, use a large serrated knife to cut a hole at the top of the pumpkin. You can also make the hole at the bottom of the pumpkin, or even at the back, depending on how you're going to light it. I chose to make the hole at the top to keep things simple.

Next, scoop out the guts. You can do this which ever way you feel is most efficient. I mostly used my hands, but you may find it easier to use a large spoon. Either way, this step is pretty messy, so it's probably best to cover your work-space with newspapers or something to keep the mess contained.

Once all the guts have been removed, use your large spoon to scrape the inner walls of the pumpkin. This is done for several reasons: first, scraping off all the stringy parts will prevent mold from growing inside the pumpkin, so it lasts longer.Also, when the pumpkin walls are thin, it's easier to carve the pumpkin and the final result looks better, especially when you get to multiple layer stencils.

Step 3: Choosing a Stencil

Once you've gutted your pumpkin, it's time to find a stencil. The stencil will be transferred onto the pumpkin to serve as a guide while you're carving.

You can easily find free pumpkin stencils online on various sites. The one I've used most frequently in the past is Pumpkin Glow, where you can find all sorts of patterns, from cartoon characters to movie villains. These templates are mostly in the beginner level, however, so once you've gotten some experience carving pumpkins, another website worth checking out is Stoneykins. Here, you'll find a wider variety of templates, from celebrities to animals to logos to famous music composers. Unfortunately, most of the stencils here cost money, but there are also some free ones on the site.

Here are some more websites where you can find pumpkin stencils:

Orange and black pumpkins

Halloween Pumpkins

Pumpkin Craze

Spook Master

You can choose any template you like, of course, but I ended up using a pattern from the Charlie Brown Halloween special, which you can find down below. Once you've picked out a stencil, print it out and get ready for the next step!

Step 4: Transferring Your Pattern Onto the Pumpkin

Congratulations! You've officially reached the last step before carving. That being said, take your time! This step is actually more difficult than it might seem at first.

So now that you have you're pattern printed out, you'll need to transfer it onto the pumpkin. To start, cut around the pattern so that it is just big enough to fit onto the pumpkin. Next, tape the pattern onto the pumpkin where you want it to go. I don't think the type of tape you use really matters; in the past, I've used both scotch tape and duct tape, and both have worked equally well. If you wanted to, you could even use push pins to hold the pattern in place.

The idea here is to use your needle to poke holes all around the edges of the design, so that when you remove the stencil, you get an outline of the pattern. You can then "connect-the-dots" with a sharpie to get a carbon copy of the original stencil on the face of the pumpkin.

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Chances are, once you remove the stencil, you'll find yourself staring at a bunch of seemingly randomly-placed dots. The pattern I used was relatively simple, so I didn't really have this problem. Still, on more complex designs, the sheer number of dots can get overwhelming. For this reason, it's helpful to keep the stencil on the side as a guide to help you when you're connecting the dots.

Step 5: Carving

Now that you've gotten all the boring preparation out of the way, it's finally time to get carving!

Ideally, you'd want to have a pumpkin carving kit, which you could easily find at Lowes or Walmart for just a few bucks. However, I was short on time, so I had to improvise. Instead of using a traditional pumpkin carving saw, I used a jigsaw blade attached to a wine cork. I also used a drill along with a utility knife for the smaller details.

When carving, you want to start from the center of the design and then work your way out. If you can, you should also focus on the smaller details first. If you don't follow these two tips, there's a much higher chance of the pumpkin breaking as you're carving.

On my pumpkin, I first started by drilling out the eyes, then cutting out the details of the face, like the eyebrows and mouth. Next, I moved on to the details in the pumpkin, and lastly, I cut around the edges.You can then clean the finished product with a moist rag, and then you're all done!

Step 6: Light It Up!

Once you've carved the pumpkin, you have several options on how to go about lighting it. First, you could just use a candle, which is what I did. If that isn't bright enough for your taste, you could also use a light-bulb, although I didn't feel that was necessary on this particular design. If you're feeling bold, you could also try lighting it up with fire. There are several tutorials around the web which show you how to do this, most of which involve toilet paper soaked in kerosene.

Once it's lit, take a step back and gaze upon its beauty! What might not look like much at first will suddenly come to life when lit. If you made any mistakes while carving, you can probably spot them now and fix them. Once you're satisfied with the way it looks, you can put it outside, where people will (hopefully) stare at it in awe!

Step 7: Moving on to 3-Layer Stencils

Now that you've gotten some experience with 2 layer pumpkin carving, you can move on to 3 layer stencils.

Carving a 3 layer stencil is similar to carving a 2-layer stencil. You still use a needle to transfer the stencil onto the pumpkin, and the process of carving is pretty much the same. However, unlike a 2 layer stencil, where you cut all the way through the pumpkin, in a 3-layer stencil, you also have another option: peeling the skin off so that only a little bit of light shines through. This extra layer gives the design more depth. In most stencils, this layer is represented by gray or cross-hatched areas.

Step 8: Preservation

Unfortunately, your pumpkin wont last forever. Still, you can follow some of the options below to make your pumpkin last as long as possible.

  • Coat the inside and outside of your pumpkin in lemon/lime juice.
  • Keep the pumpkin refrigerated when you're not working on it and when its not on display
  • Soak the pumpkin in bleach before displaying it
  • Use a commercial pumpkin preserver, like Pumpkin Fresh

Supposedly, the bleach method works the best, but I've never actually tried it. I typically just use the lime juice method, which works OK. Whichever method you use though, keep in mind that your pumpkin probably won't last more than fourteen days.

Step 9: In Conclusion

Although it might seem intimidating at first, pumpkin carving is actually pretty easy in practice. Here are some key points to remember:

  • Scrape the inside of the pumpkin to make the walls thin
  • Once you have your pattern printed out, use a needle and a sharpie to transfer the stencil onto the pumpkin
  • Carve from the inside out
  • Carve the smaller details first to avoid breaking the pumpkin
  • You can add shading by skinning parts of the pumpkin
  • The best way to preserve the pumpkin is to use bleach or Pumpkin Fresh
  • And lastly, have fun!
Pumpkin Carving Contest 2016

Participated in the
Pumpkin Carving Contest 2016