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How to Carve a Frightenly Perfect Pumpkin

Cristina is a pumpkin-carving veteran who enjoys sharing helpful tips and tricks with her readers.

Want to carve the perfect Halloween pumpkin? Check out these tips and tricks for your scariest pumpkin yet!

Want to carve the perfect Halloween pumpkin? Check out these tips and tricks for your scariest pumpkin yet!

Pumpkin Carving Ideas and Tricks: Scary Fun for Halloween

Once upon a time, I bought pumpkins every year, carved them into silly faces, and put candles in them, lighting up crooked teeth and triangular eyes.

Then I found the plastic variety, pre-carved, with electric bulbs, good year after year. The last of those finally broke last year. I was left with real pumpkin carving again. I cringed, bought a pumpkin-carving kit—the cheap kind—and cringed again. And fell in love with the art of pumpkin carving.

In this article, I share my best tips and tricks for carving the perfect spooky Halloween pumpkin. You'll also find a step-by-step guide to pumpkin carving, as well as some interesting history about pumpkin carving and the origin of the term "jack-o'-lantern."

Jack-o'-lantern designs are no longer just faces. Spooky Halloween scenes are commonly found carved into pumpkins.

Jack-o'-lantern designs are no longer just faces. Spooky Halloween scenes are commonly found carved into pumpkins.

Tips and Tricks for Easy, Scary Pumpkin Carving

  1. Choose a large, round pumpkin with little or no blemishes. The larger the pumpkin, the easier it is to carve. If it has one side without blemishes, you can carve on that side while placing the "ugly" side towards the back.
  2. For a longer shelf life, soak your pumpkin in a solution of 1 teaspoon of bleach to 1 gallon of water. The solution will preserve the pumpkin. Don't worry; it won't bleach! You can also rub petroleum jelly on the cut edges so that they don't shrivel. Nothing worse than a pumpkin with shriveled incisors trying to glare at trick-or-treaters on Halloween.
  3. Use a battery-powered candle rather than a flame one to reduce the risk of fire. But if you MUST use flame, use a high-quality votive in a clear glass holder. High-quality candles, though more expensive, burn longer. And the glass holder will keep the melted wax contained.
  4. Sprinkle the bottom of your pumpkin with cinnamon, nutmeg, or some similar scent. It will play double-duty in providing a pleasant smell to your home. Alternatively, use a scented candle in the pumpkin.
  5. Save the seeds. They make a delicious treat when seasoned and toasted (roasted?) in the oven.
  6. Carve a mirror-image pattern into the back (upper) part of the pumpkin. When lit, the image will project onto a wall behind the pumpkin. This makes a stunning effect and is great for projecting things like writing or neat scenery.
  7. New to carving? Begin with a simple, bold design. Avoid lots of small holes or pieces, as these are easy to cut wrong. If you mess up a small piece, just put it back in place using toothpicks which can also be used to secure the small pieces.
  8. Have fun. Halloween is fun. Trick-or-treating is fun. Carving pumpkins is fun. Enjoy it!
Here are some excellent tips and tricks for carving the perfect pumpkin!

Here are some excellent tips and tricks for carving the perfect pumpkin!

How to Carve the Perfect Pumpkin: A Step-by-Step Guide

Here's everything you need to know to carve the perfect pumpkin this Halloween!

What You'll Need

  • A pumpkin (or several)
  • A pumpkin carving kit. Why? They include the pokers, templates, scrapers, and saws that make pumpkin carving easier.
  • Candles. Any candle will do, and these days, you can even choose a battery-operated one.
  • Imagination, aka creativity. Get funny, get crazy, get spooky, get creative. Jack-o-lanterns don't have to have a face, either. Besides the scary faces, spooky Halloween-y scenes are popular carving options. If you can't think of something, use one of the many templates available online.

Step-by-Step Guide to Pumpkin Carving

  1. First, get your pumpkin(s).
  2. Prepare a workspace (it can get messy).
  3. Cut a "lid" into the top of the pumpkin. Cut at a slight angle and use a serrated knife for best results.
  4. Scoop out the pumpkin guts. You can save the seeds for a tasty treat later! Tip: Using an ice cream scoop gets the job done faster.
  5. Draw your design using a template or freehand.
  6. Carve the design with a serrated knife or saw from a pumpkin-carving kit. Push cut pieces out from the inside of the pumpkin.
  7. Soak your pumpkin in a bath of 1 teaspoon of bleach in 1 gallon of water for up to overnight. Before setting your pumpkin out, coat the cut edges with petroleum jelly to prevent the edges from rotting.
  8. Place a battery-powered candle or high-quality votive in a glass holder inside the pumpkin. You're all done!

Why Do We Carve Pumpkins?

Pumpkin carving was first recorded in the United States in long before it was associated with Halloween. It's been going on since at least the 1800s; however, the tradition of vegetable carving—most notably turnips, beets, and rutabaga—dates back to before the 1600s in Ireland and Scotland, where the tradition began. These carved vegetable lanterns sat lit on a home's doorway on All Hallows Eve to ward off evil spirits. When immigrants from Ireland, Scotland, and England came to the United States, the custom followed where the native pumpkin was used.

Where do jack-o'-lanterns come from?

Where do jack-o'-lanterns come from?

The Legend of Stingy Jack: Where Jack-O'-Lanterns Got Their Name

The name jack-o'-lantern, originally used in the UK in the 1600s and in the US in the early 1800s, is derived from an old Irish legend about a man named Stingy Jack. Like many legends, there are various stories surrounding Stingy Jack, but the gist of them all is that he tricked the devil and ended up paying for it.

Stingy Jack asked the devil to have a drink with him. Being stingy, he didn't want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the devil to turn himself into a coin, the devil being able to shape-shift into anything he chooses. Jack wanted to keep the money as well, so he put the devil (in the coin shape) into his pocket with a cross. The cross prevented the devil from shifting back. Eventually, Jack released him but not before securing a promise from the devil that he would not bother Jack for a year nor claim his soul if Jack died in that year.

Well, a year passed, and Jack, being stingy, wanted more from the devil. Again he tricked the devil, this time securing a promise from the devil that he would never bother Jack again nor claim his soul when Jack died. Shortly after this, Jack died. Having wicked and stingy ways, he was not allowed into heaven, and having made a promise with the devil, he was not allowed to go to hell.

The devil sent Jack off to wander the Earth with only an ember and a turnip (Jack's favorite vegetable). He carved out the turnip and placed the ember in it to light his way around the Earth. He became known as "Jack of the Lantern," which was eventually shortened to "Jack-O'-Lantern."

Pumpkin Carving Templates and Ideas


Cristina Vanthul (author) from Florida on March 13, 2014:

Thank you!

FlourishAnyway from USA on March 11, 2014:

I'm back to pin this to my Halloween and Other Spooky stuff board.

FlourishAnyway from USA on July 31, 2013:

Very interesting story about how we got Jack-o'-lanterns, and I love your photos. Can't wait until Halloween. It's not even August yet, and I'm getting excited about it already.

Cristina Vanthul (author) from Florida on October 04, 2012:

Thanks, daisyjae, my favorite part too...well, and decorating, dressing up, trick or treating with my son...It's all fun!

daisyjae from Canada on October 02, 2012:

Nice tips on carving a pumpkin. That is my favorite part of halloween. The history is interesting too.