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Pumpkin-Carving Tips

Carving pumpkins is a great Halloween tradition. This page has tips and tricks as well as most of the jack-o-lanterns that I've carved for Halloweens past.

Order the PDF ebook of Mark's Pumpkin Carving Tips, Tricks, & Patterns here. It's a much more thorough version of the infomation below plus carving patterns drawn by Mark. It's a good, cheap, quick tool that will make your Halloween better.



1) Select a Pumpkin
2) Gather your tools
3) Decide what you are going to do
4) Start cutting!
5) Roast some seeds
6) Let there be Light
7) Carnage
8) Fun Links


1) Select a Pumpkin

I have always gotten the best pumpkins by stopping at either a roadside stand, going to a farmer’s market, or going to the actual farm that grows them. You get a better, higher quality selection, and besides, I like to support the farmers directly if I can.

If you already have a design in mind when you go to the pumpkin patch, you obviously will look for a pumpkin to match your idea, but if you don’t, just look for the pumpkin that makes you happiest. Great designs come from happy people holding big knives.

Be creative. That misshapen pumpkin might just be the perfect one-eyed monster if you do it right.


2) Gather your tools

Knife: My first impulse is to recommend that you should use the biggest knife you can find… but that would actually be counter-productive.

Really, you should use a knife that you are comfortable with, it should be sharp, and in the smallish range. I use a paring knife. You won’t have to push as hard with a sharp knife as you would a dull one, so in the end, a sharp knife is safer as well as being easier to use. Always use care when handling any sharp tool.

Pumpkin-Carving Kit: The other thing that you should have is one of those cheap pumpkin-carving sets. At first glance they appear to be just another collection of cheap plastic junk designed to get you to part with your money… nothing could be further from the truth. These kits are gold. GOLD I tell ya!

The best thing in the kit in my opinion is the guts scoop. Don’t buy a kit if there is no guts scoop. We’ve all tried to use a big spoon that won’t quite fit in the pumpkin, and we’ve all used our fingers, but nothing ever worked as well as I wanted. Behold the mighty guts scoop! The short handle fits inside with no trouble, and the shape and the crisp edge are perfect for getting rid of all that pumpkin slime. You’ll never want to be without one again.

Another benefit of the scoop is that it can be used to scrape away the inner walls of the pumpkin if you want to have light glow through without cutting a hole. This works best if you remove the skin, but don’t cut all the way through. Just thin it out until light comes through. I shine a flashlight into my pumpkin to test if I’ve gone thin enough. For amazing results, learn how to easily sharpen your guts scoop in my pumpkin carving ebook.

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3) Decide what you are going to do

Some people (like me) will actually think about the design of their pumpkin weeks or even months in advance, and maybe even make drawings. You don’t have to be that dorky if you don’t want to. It is a good idea though to take a few minutes to think about what you are going to do before you actually start doing it. That way you can avoid making irreparable mistakes that will cause you to curse uncontrollably in front of innocent children.

Even if I haven’t made drawings in advance I like to plan out with my finger or a marker where the cuts will be. If you use a marker, your pumpkin will look best if you draw your design a little small and cut outside the lines so that you don’t have marker-scrawl all over your finished jack-o-lantern. If you use a washable marker you may be able to easily clean off stray marks. If you use a permanent marker (like I do because it’s all I tend to have when I need it) you can use a little rubbing alcohol and it will come off… mostly.

You don’t have to just carve the side of the pumpkin either. Some of my friends have done great jack-o-lanterns by lying the pumpkin on its side and working on the top, using the stem as a nose.

Some of the pumpkin-carving kits come with designs, so if you can’t think of a design for your pumpkin, just use one from the kit. Don’t feel bad about using a store-bought design, it’s more important to enjoy your Halloween than it is to be a creative genius.

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4) Start cutting!

First of all, I find it helpful to either cut a notch in the lid, or make the lid an odd shape. For many people this doesn’t matter, but aside from being really anal, I like the pumpkin to look like it didn’t just have a massive lobotomy. Also, make your cut at an angle, as opposed to straight down, so the lid won't fall into your finished jack-o-lantern.

When using a knife, I find that a gentle rocking of the blade forward and back allows me to cut with surprising accuracy, especially toward the end of a line. Keep in mind that cool effects can be achieved by cutting at an angle too. All the cuts don’t have to go straight into the pumpkin.

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5) Roast some seeds

Roasted pumpkin seeds are fun, and you will have no shortage of raw materials. I usually have a pumpkin-carving party, and the early pumpkin-carvers separate out some of their seeds so that they can be roasted while everyone is working on their masterpieces. When all the work is done, the seeds are ready to eat.

Pumpkin Seed Recipe: Wash off the excess gunk and spread the seeds out on a cookie sheet. Some people like to mix them with 1-2 Tbsp. melted butter before seasoning, but water works too. Sprinkle the pumpkin seeds with garlic salt, curry, cayenne, or whatever you like, and roast at about 275 degrees, stirring occasionally, until they are golden brown. Don’t eat too many though or you may regret it the next day… especially if you used a lot of cayenne.

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6) Let there be Light

Candles: I like to use good ol’ candles for light, and tea lights have always worked best for me. They’re cheap, they don’t tip over, and they last a long time. On big pumpkins I will use two or even three. Sometimes you will have to cut air holes in the lid and/or back though, especially on pumpkins with minimal carving that doesn’t let much air in.

Electric Light: If you are handy, or more clever than I am, you might be able to put an electric light in your jack-o-lantern. Cut a hole in the back and just run your light right in. This reduces the risk of fire (sort of), and lasts longer. It’s especially good for showing off to the neighbors. Make sure you do it right though, if your yard catches fire and you burn down all the neighbors’ houses, don’t blame me. You were the one who wanted to put an electric light inside a vegetable. There are now a lot of great battery powered LED lights available too. A google search for "LED candle" worked well for me.

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7) Carnage

Be very careful if you decide to display your pumpkin indoors. I made the mistake of leaving a pumpkin inside in the front window too long one year, and only discovered it by the sound of dripping goo hitting the floor. From then on all of my pumpkins have lived outside.

Your pumpkin will start to decompose as soon as you cut into the skin, so make sure you carve close enough to Halloween so that you still have a jack-o-lantern on the big day.

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8) Fun Links:

www.extremepumpkins.com
Darth Maul: Melonhead of the Sith
ZombiePumpkins.com

 

Have fun, take lots of pictures, and have a Happy Halloween!
Mark Hayward

 

 



Pumpkins! (by Mark naturally)

2006

2005
2004
There is no 2004 pumpkin. :(
2003
2002
 
2001
 
2000
1999
1998
 
1993
 

Notable pumpkins done by other people:

 



Order the PDF ebook of Mark's Pumpkin Carving Tips, Tricks, & Patterns here. It's a much more thorough version of the infomation above plus carving patterns drawn by Mark. It's a good, cheap, quick tool that will make your Halloween better.


 


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