How to Carve Iron Man




Introduction: How to Carve Iron Man

This is a guide on how I (and how you can) carved my pumpkin, "I am IRON MAN".  Feel free to use the pattern I drew.  it is color coded with explanations as you move through the guide.  This is challenging but can be done if you have the patience!

Step 1: What You'll Need

For this project you will need a few tools.  The bulk of the work will be done with a good, quality X-acto knife.  Brief reasonings for each tool are provided, with further explanation found within the instructable.

- X-Acto knife
- Serrated pumpkin carving knives (smaller knives for fine detail are best, and can be found in the over the counter pumpkin carving kits at most stores)
- Edged scooper (for scraping out the inside of your pumpkin)
- Paper and pencil (for pattern)
- Small finely tipped nail (for poking holes while transferring pattern to pumpkin)
- Sharpie or ball point pen (for pattern tracing)
- Dremel or grinding tool (to remove some pumpkin flesh)
- small fluorescent lamp (for lighting pumpkin)

Step 2: Choose an Idea

For my pumpkins I simply start by Googling ideas I think would make for interesting pumpkins.  I focus on those images that contain good light/dark contrast.  i also try and choose a picture that has a few very bright highlights or lights, since you can get great effect by lighting your pumpkin from the inside with a bright, electrical light. 

With this in mind Iron Man was perfect, as he actually HAS lights on his suit that would play well with the internal lighting of a pumpkin.  

The picture below is the original picture used that I based my design on.
* Photo credit: Marvel Comics, found via Google search for "Iron Man side".

Step 3: Draw Your Pattern

For this pumpkin, of course I chose Iron Man.   It is important to pick an image that has enough contrast to allow for good light/shadow interplay.  In the case of Iron Man, his bright visor lights and chest lights allow for some potentially great final lighting.  His suit is metallic and so also has many highlights that will play well when lit with a bright lamp.

Once the pattern is drawn roughly, you then need to decide what portions of the pumpkin will stay intact and what portions will have different depths removed.  I employ a 4 depth system:
1 Pumpkin that will be left in completely, skin and all (Black)
2 Just the skin removed (Grey)
3 Skin plus some flesh removed Light grey (White)
4 All skin and flesh removed (yellow)

Step 4: Color Code Your Pattern

One of the hardest parts of turning a real picture into a pumpkin pattern is soft lines of gradual contrast change (for example, the gradual change from light to dark as light goes around a rounded object like a shoulder). What I do is look at the original picture and decide where the change in contrast is most obvious: i.e. where does my eye notice the obvious difference from the light portion compared to the dark portion. At that point a hard line is drawn so that I can then carve a different depth on one side of the line than on the other.

As in my Spiderman Instructable, you can again see the legend I use for the different depths. I am sure to include this legend for myself so I don't get confused.

The second picture then shows the orriginal drawing color coded with the different depths listed above.

Tips for determining how to color code:
- Because you are carving INTO a pumpkin and lighting it from the inside, everything you may know about light and shadow will be backward.  
- What this means is that those portions of the pumpkin that  you want to appear CLOSEST to you and BEST lit need to actually be the THINNEST portions of the pumpkin. This is because the thinner the pumpkin, the more light that will show through (or all light showing through in the case of removing the entire thickness of the pumpkin.  

The picture provided shows the now color-coded pattern.

Step 5: Tape Your Pattern to Your Pumpkincan

Next up is taping the pattern to the pumpkin. The key here is that you will have to start at one area (usually the top for me) and tape there. Then you should sort of mold the paper around the pumpkin so the main image is not distorted. To do this I make several cuts and folds in the non-essential portions of the pattern paper as I smooth the main image over the surface.

You can see a fairly large cut in the left side of the pattern in the plain, white portion of the paper (it is covered in a little bit of tape.  As you can see, not making this cut would result in the head portion of the pattern being tilted toward the left, which would look abnormal. You can also see a few folds, one near the bottom center of his chest plate.  These are placed deliberately to allow for as little image distortion as possible.  The more cuts and folds made in the non-essential parts of the pattern the smoother the main image will be. 

Step 6: Transfer Your Pattern to the Pumpkin

Now that the pattern is on the pumpkin, you must transfer the design so that you can carve without the paper being in the way.  In the case of Iron Man, I simply used a small tipped object (actually a finely tipped nail for this pumpkin, although actual "pokers" are often included in the over the counter pumpkin carving kits).  

Transferring is done by poking along every hard line that is present in the pattern.  When the poking is done, the paper can be removed.  Once removed, then go over the poked holes with a sharpie (ballpoint pens actually work quite well on pumpkin skin also).  

In the included picture, I have already traced over the pattern with a ballpoint pen.  If you look closely, however, you can see the numerous small holes made by poking the nail just through the surface of the pumpkin skin.  

***IMPORTANT NOTE***  Do not throw the pattern away.  It is color coded for the different depths!  Always keep it on hand so you can know exactly how much pumpkin to remove from each different step.

Step 7: Remove the "Yellow" Coded Portions, Start Removing the Skin

To me the easiest pieces to start removing are those where the entire thickness of the pumpkin including the skin are removed.  For Iron Man, these pieces are the eyes, chest light, and highlights of the suit (See pattern for color coding, Step 2).  

Once those pieces are removed, you can proceed to removing just the skin in those areas that are color coded grey (see Pattern for color coding, Step 2).  

Step 8: Continue/finish Removing the Skin

Continue removing the skin of the pumpkin in those areas color coded grey and white. Remember, grey areas are those where just the skin is removed, while white areas are those where skin and a little thickness of flesh are removed.  

To remove just the skin, I first use the x-acto knife with the triangular pointed blade and cut around the hard lines of the pumpkin surrounding the piece of skin I want to remove.  I then switch to the blade that is completely square and flat at the end.  Worm one corner of the square end of the blade just under the skin, the work the remaining portion of the blade under the skin and gently push.  As you do so you will gradually "shave" pieces of the skin away.  You can think of doing this sort of like planing wood, if that provides a clear mental picture.  

In the white areas, once the skin is removed, you can remove some of the flesh in one of two ways.  One way is to use the x-acto knife to cut a short way into the thickness of the pumpkin (~1/4 to 1/2 inch) and then pop the pieces out a little bit at a time.  

The other way to do so is to "grind" the pumpkin flesh away.  This can be done with a handheld Dremel quickly and very easily.  For this Iron Man pumpkin, a handheld "grinding tool" was used.  It is pictured in the "tools" step and is the oddly shaped orange plastic tool you see.  

Step 9: Light the Pumpkin

As in the "How to" for Spiderman, these sort of pumpkins do not light well with standard candles, since so much of the effect relies on light shining THROUGH the flesh of the pumpkin.  I use a standard fluorescent lamp with a "cool" (bluish tint) as opposed to a "warm" (orangish tint) bulb.  The main reason for this is the pumpkin is already orange, and the blue tint looks a bit better shining through the completely open portions of the pumpkin.  

To light, you simply cut a hoel large enough to fit the lamp into the back of the pumpkin and place the lamp.

Step 10: View in Appropriately Dim Room

This may be somewhat obvious, but because light has to shine through the flesh of the pumpkin, these look best while lit in as dark a room as possible.  Enjoy!

Third Prize in the
Halloween Contest

2 People Made This Project!


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20 Discussions


2 years ago

This looks awesome!


5 years ago

I've never "skinned" or carved a pumpkin like this. Great instructable!

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5 years ago

This guide was awesome! Just finished my own. Pictures soon, thanks!!


Reply 5 years ago

That's awesome! I look forward to seeing pictures. Always nice seeing others get enjoyment and use out of my past work!


6 years ago on Introduction

I just wanted to say thanks. I just did this myself, mainly because my 3 year old son just loves Iron Man, and I love a challenge. And I have to say, this was just that. I printed out your template and there were plenty of times where I was not too sure how it would come out. But once it got dark and I stuck the lamp in the back it came out awesome. So again, thanks!


Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

No problem! Glad my design and explanations helped you to create a good pumpkin for your son! Looks good! Keep an eye out for this years instructable... It will be much more difficult than any I have previously done. Enjoy!


7 years ago on Introduction

Great instructable! I attempted it and mine turned out pretty well. It certainly impressed my friends though! Thanks for the great guide!


8 years ago on Step 8

Very awesome! What is the official name of the handheld "grinding tool" and were can I find one?


Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

Well unfortunately, as far as I know, it doesn't HAVE a name. The tool I am referring to is located at the far right of the picture of all the tools, and just came in a standard set of carving tool kits that are out every year around this time.

Thats beautiful! Especially the differences in shades of light coming through. It's very subtle at first but then you take a second glance and see the details.

How long does the pumpkin last?