How To Carve a Pumpkin

So you've gathered together the most expendable parts of your local newspaper. You've got "Night On Bald Mountain" on continuous loop on the stereo, or maybe a Vincent Price movie playing on the television. Or maybe you prefer to work with minimal noise and want nothing to distract you from one of the most cherished of fall rituals. Yes, all you ghastly children of the night, it's time to carve a pumpkin! Time at last to roll up your sleeves and plunge your fist awkwardly into the belly of the pumpkin, wrist-deep in slimy pumpkin goo and stringy meat as you try to grab every last pumpkin seed.

  1. Easy does it, my ghoulish readers, easy does it! Let's take a step back now. Before you carve a pumpkin, first you have to buy the pumpkin and decide on a design for the pumpkin carving. If you haven't noticed, many grocery stores sell pumpkins around this time of year, usually in gigantic, unmanageable piles out in the front of their store. If you're lucky enough to live within a short drive of farm land, chances are you can find some pumpkin patches as well. Visiting a pumpkin patch is fun for all ages, but the little hobgoblins will always remember a trip to a pumpkin patch and the process of picking their favorite pumpkin right from the vine. Local newspapers typically list pumpkin patches during the weeks leading up to Halloween. If you never see listings, visit their websites online and either browse recent issues or search for "pumpkin" using their search tool.
  2. Envision your design. Your design might dawn on you before you pick out a pumpkin. In this case, be sure that your pumpkin choice is informed by the dimensional needs of your design. Should the face be longer and narrower, or shorter and smaller? Think of the ultimate shape you envision for your pumpkin's eyes and mouth, among other features. Do you want them to be hideously wide, or will your carved pumpkin terrify viewers with the stretched-out verticality of its features? Or are you perhaps modeling your Jack O' Lantern after a famous person or character? If so, then you already have a head-start in choosing which pumpkin to carve. If you're aiming for playful mischief or whimsy, you might want to carve a pumpkin that's rounder in shape. If grim spookiness or quiet menace is your aim, consider opting for a longer, narrower pumpkin.

    But there are no rules, of course - pick out the pumpkin that appeals to you most. In fact, many people choose a pumpkin to carve before even trying to decide on a design to use (if you're like me, though, you've been fantasizing about carving the pumpkin for a month now, and have distractedly doodled countless Jack O' Lanterns all over just about every scrap of paper). You'll find pumpkins of all shapes - tall and narrow, short and wide, round, tilting, or totally misshapen (a personal favorite), to name just some of the possibilities.

    If you want a serious blueprint or just want to carve a pumpkin in a really elaborate way, you can also find or make a stencil and use it when carving your pumpkin. To make a pumpkin carving stencil, visit Pumpkin Carving 101.

  3. Gather the necessary instruments. To carve a pumpkin, all you need is a pumpkin, flat space, newspaper and/or towel, a couple knives, a large and ideally metal spoon, a pencil and your imagination. Candy is a good thing to have on hand too, of course! You might also want a damp hand towel and a bowl in which to put the pumpkin seeds. Additional cutting tools could include a fine-toothed cutting saw, which is great for small, controlled details. Always remember, when making cuts in the pumpkin, to cut away from your hands. Don't make the same mistake I did!.. Sometimes I still hear my disembodied hand tapping, tapping inside the walls at night.
  4. Place your pumpkin on the sturdy, flat surface. The stone floor of your secret underground laboratory is a good place, but a linoleum kitchen floor works just fine as well. Start by cutting a hole in the top of the pumpkin, around the stem. If you make your cuts to form a multi-sided shape and angle your cuts slightly inward toward the center of the pumpkin, you'll end up with a cap that can be easily placed back on the pumpkin and will never fall inside of it. You won't have to yank at the stem - the lid easily pops off the top of the pumpkin. Just like that gruesome piece of my skull. O you devilish ghouls, I'm only kidding... or am I?!

  5. Scoop out the stringy insides. Once you've carved the top hole out of your pumpkin, it's time to start scooping out the innards! Use your large spoon to scrape and scoop spoonfuls of orange guts out of the pumpkin and keep digging until your pumpkin is clean of seeds and goo (later as a tasty treat, you can roast the pumpkin seeds!). You'll probably have to scrape off the inner floor of the pumpkin to form a flat surface for the light source. Be prepared to use your hands in this step, too - you'll likely have to pull out some stubborn slimy strings as best you can! Alternately, if you plan on using a light source other than candle, you can leave some of the strings inside to create a murky, slimy swamp-thing kind of effect in the face of your pumpkin. Don't ever overdo it, though - you want light to escape from the pumpkin at least more easily than it can escape the dank, dark recesses of your soul!
  6. Now's the time to carve the pumpkin's face! The pencil can be used to draw your design lightly on the chosen part of your pumpkin before you carve the pumpkin. This is an optional step, but can prevent careless mistakes. If a symmetrical face is your goal when you carve the pumpkin (as is often the case), then be sure to ration space accordingly. If you're using a stencil, then you simply have to place the pattern over the pumpkin and poke tiny holes along the design to guide the cuts you'll ultimately make.

    Whether or not you draw the design first before you carve the pumpkin, use a thin knife to cut the design out of your pumpkin. You might find it helpful to have a large knife for those long stretches and a smaller one for the more delicate slices. Grisly!

Now you've done it... O, what foul abomination have you belched forth upon this world?!! You've carved the pumpkin into a Jack O' Lantern and are ready to place it in a dark spot and put the light source inside the pumpkin. When it comes to light, you've got several options. If you're prepared to monitor the pumpkin and blow out the candle before bedtime, then a small white candle is still the classiest option. If you're unable to keep an eye on the Jack O' Lantern or are concerned about those mischievous rapscallions getting burned or catching the pumpkin on fire, then you can use a candle-imitating, battery-powered light that flickers but will never cause a fire. Check out for battery-powered options when lighting your Jack O' Lantern.


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