Have you always wanted to make one of those amazing pumpkins you see on the Internet? Do your attempts always turn out looking like Mickey Rourke gone even more wrong? Well follow these simple instructions and you'll soon be a Pumpkin Master!
Step 1: Select a Volunteer
Before you can do anything, you have to have a
victim volunteer pumpkin to turn into a masterpiece. This will largely depend on what design you're trying to make, and the size and shape of pumpkins available to you. For faces and action-posed characters, I'd recommend a taller pumpkin. However, if you're going with a wider scene, or something with words, a squat and round pumpkin will suffice. Today I'm carving a face into a pumpkin, but it's the face of a heavy set person so I went with a tallish fat pumpkin. Can you guess who it is before the end of this Instructable?
Step 2: Gather Your Instruments
Once you've selected a pumpkin you'll want to gather the implements of destruction. You can buy kits at almost any grocery store or mega mart in the fall and they're a really great way to start. However, after a few years I've found that for certain things it helped to think a little outside the box and utilize tools from projects you wouldn't ordinarily associate with pumpkin carving. Things like punches, wood and drywall saws, and X-Acto knives can all help your pumpkins look fantastic.
Step 3: Cranial Cracking
Remember that scene from Hannibal where Sir Anthony Hopkins cuts the top of Ray Liotta's skull off and proceeds to cut, cook, and then feed him a part of his own brain? That's what this is like, only not as sweet and endearing. For this step I usually use my drywall saw to cut a circle a little bit bigger than my fist. Make sure you cut at an angle and make a notch to keep the lid from falling in. Once you've cut the lid you may have to struggle with the pumpkin to get it to let go. Occasionally you'll get a pumpkin as stringy as spaghetti squash and those things just don't want to give up the fight. I mean, if someone was cutting your head open, wouldn't you resist a little?
Step 4: What's the Scoop?
Now that you've got your lid taken care of (protip: cut the bottom of the lid off, it'll help prevent burning if you use a candle to light the finished product) it's time to clean out the inside. A lot of bigger kits will come with a serrated spoon I've dubbed the Scoop Spoon (my wit knows no bounds) but I've also used larger soup spoons and once, in desperation, a fork. I do not recommend using a fork. If you can get yourself a Scoop Spoon, use a Scoop Spoon. Scoop Spoon.
If you are so inclined you can save the seeds to roast or make pumpkin brittle (Alton Brown has an Uh-May-Zing recipe). Also, if you have chickens, goats, or rodentia on your property, try feeding them the guts. Chickens love pumpkin guts. As I mentioned in one of my photos in the last step, this was an incredibly thick walled pumpkin. Using your scooping device, try to scrape away enough flesh that the wall where you'll be cutting is only about an inch thick. This will make cutting easier and help light get through, which will make your design POP out.
Step 5: Don't Worry, Gallagher Prefers Watermelons
Now that your pumpkin is prepped, it's time to start the hard(ish) part. Using a stencil that you can download from many websites (Zombie Pumpkins is my favorite) you can put almost anything you want on the face of a pumpkin. If you have access to it, you can use image editing software to take nearly any picture into a black and white line drawing, then invert the colors, and cut out the shaded bits. Or you could just find an awesome design online and use that...
Since I wanted to keep the suspense alive I didn't show my pattern face forward and I didn't secure it like I normally would. In most circumstances I would tape all four corners of the page, and use little folds to mold the flat, rectangular paper to the bulging, spherical pumpkin.
Step 6: Stabby McStabberton
This step can be exhausting. Essentially, you want to perforate the pumpkin using any number of perforating tools. The store bought kits will come a fairly sturdy poker, but I like to use a lock picking tool that you can get from Kobalt (see image). It's extra pointy and makes short work of even the densest pumpkin. Also, many kits will come with rolling perforaters that are absolutely perfect for tight curves. Remember, the more dots you make, the easier the cutting will be. Don't be afraid to really get your stab on.
Step 7: Powder Your Nose
One of the biggest things you can do to stop yourself from going mad when you start cutting is to use cornstarch or bleached flour and rub it on the now perforated pumpkin. The holes will get filled with a white powder and the excess will fall to the floor, leaving behind an easy to follow cutting pattern. An optional step, that can tack on several minutes to your project, is to both fill the holes with powder and use a pen to connect the dots. You could also skip this and the last step altogether and simply remove the stencil on the paper, then cut out anything orange you can see once you apply it. The perforating really makes cutting a lot easier though, so I have almost always used that method and recommend you do as well.
Step 8: Optional Step, But You Should Really Do It
Okay, you've selected a pumpkin, cut off its head, scooped out its guts, stabbed it repeatedly, then powdered and/or tattooed it. What's next? Take a break. Eat some chili. Check out everyone else's progress (you are having a pumpkin carving party, right?). Drink some cider. Just walk away from the project for a few minutes. It's so worth it. Also, the chili pictured here was amazeballs so I was really looking for any excuse.
Step 9: Dexter Ain't Got Nothin' on You!
Did you enjoy the chili? Cider spicy enough for you? Great, now pick up a knife and let's hack this bad boy to bits!
Start with the small pieces, and make sure that you've scooped out enough of the flesh behind your cutting area, or you'll really increase the level of difficulty (even with the simple stuff you find in the kits). Different size pieces to be cut out will require different sized knives for maximum effectiveness. Now, I'll be honest, I didn't scrap this pumpkin out very well and it was very thick. I got around that by using a wood saw that really chewed through thick flesh. Like a hot knife through butter. Smaller knives will be useful for the details cuts, and larger sizes for increasing size (however, if a large piece has lots of curves you might be best served with the smaller knife).
Pro Tip: Use a chopstick to push any piece through that doesn't come out easily. When you're done just turn the pumpkin upside down and let gravity clean it out for you. SCIENCE FTMFW!
Step 10: If You Get Scared, Just Count to Five...
Once you've got everything cut out and your project seems complete, you've got one little step left to do.
There are probably a few stringy bits on the back that'll make the pumpkin look funny, so go ahead and give it a quick scrape again. Also, if you have an X-Acto knife, use it to tighten up any of your cuts that look a bit jagged (unless that's the look you're going for).
After that, just drop a few votives or a small LED light into the bottom and enjoy your finished product!
Step 11: The Mystery Face, Revealed
This year, in honor of a segment called Crimes Against Cinema over on the Celluloid Heroes Radio podcast, I decided to carve the visage of my favorite director into the side of a pumpkin. As far as tributes go, it's top notch and full of references. First of all, there was lots of stabbing, a la Psycho. Then, there's the image of a face carved into a hard substance like in North By Northwest. Additionally, when I sit him on my front porch he'll be afraid of falling and suffer from Vertigo. Finally, as you voyeuristically created this with me via the power of Teh Interwebz, it's a lot like Rear Window. Oh, and The Birds will really love to eat his guts.