I’m sorta what you’d call a “semi-professional pumpkin” carver. My siblings and I used to carve over 200 pumpkins in week for our annual pumpkin fest every year. We’re often hired to carve pumpkins for local Halloween parties. We were even hired a few times by Red Bull and Kink Bikes to carve pumpkins for their promotional events. As such, I’ve done a lot of pumpkin carving in my life. When you’ve carved as many pumpkins as I have (somewhere over 1,000), you pick up a few good pumpkin carving tips here and there. I thought I’d share a few of those pumpkin carving tips that hopefully you’ll find useful in your own pumpkin carving adventures.
The most important of pumpkin carving tips is of course choosing the right pumpkin. You want to choose one that’s the right size, shape, and texture for your chosen pumpkin pattern. See my earlier post Choosing the Perfect Pumpkin for tips to select one that’s just right.
The best tool to carve a pumpkin with is aptly named the pumpkin knife. These knives have a zig-zag edge on the blade which doesn’t cut anything other than pumpkin flesh. The blade are usually about a half inch wide at the base making them nice and sturdy. They really are the best tool you can use to cut a pumpkin. They work faster and are much safer than steak knives. These are useful for cutting the top and all the big pieces.
For smaller carving areas, you’ll also want some tiny saws, pokers, and pumpkin drills. These are generally readily available at Halloween time. Pumpkin Masters generally sells these little saws as part of a kit with pumpkin stencils. You’ll also need a scraper to scoop out the guts. The Pumpkin Masters kits generally include one, but it’s flat-edged and therefore doesn’t always work well. If you can find a round-ended plastic pumpkin scoop, you’ll find it works better.
Start by drawing a circle around the top of your pumpkin large enough to be able to fit your hand through. Some places will tell you go through the bottom, but I’ve found pumpkins rot faster when you go through the bottom. Be sure to draw a notch in the circle toward the backside of your pumpkin. This makes it easy to find which way the top sets and also helps prevent the top from sliding off the pumpkin.
Use your big pumpkin knife to cut along the lines at a 45 degree angle. Never use a little pumpkin saw from a kit for this step or you’ll have a lot of broken knives on your hands. Use the thicker, child pumpkin knives. If your pumpkin shell is extra thick, go around it with a longer steak knife, following the channel you carved with your pumpkin knife. Don’t try to use the steak knife without having first carved a channel with a pumpkin knife or the steak knife can slip and cut you.
Once the top is cut, pull it off and scrap out the guts. Don’t throw them out right away. Save the seeds and roast them (read about the health benefits of pumpkin seeds here). If you know someone who has cows, give them the rest of the pumpkin guts. Cows absolutely love them.
If you’ve purchase a kit that has patterns with it, you can tape one of them to your pumpkin and begin transferring it to your pumpkin by poking holes along all the lines with an awl or thin knitting needle. You can also use the poker or drill point in a kit if you’ve purchased one.
If you don’t have a kit with patterns, you can easily make your own patterns. Anything that has a silhouette can be turned into a pattern. You simply cut out the black areas and leave in the white. If that’s not possible with your particular silhouette, invert it in a photo editing program and add a circle of open space around it.
I’ve found it’s generally best to start at the center of the pattern and work your way out. The pumpkin gets more fragile with each piece you remove, so you don’t want to take out all the outside pieces first or it’ll be too weak to carve the inner parts. Be sure to use an appropriate sized knife for the particular piece you’re carving. For the small intricate parts, you’ll have to use the tiny types of saws, but for longer lines, switch to the bigger knives if possible. That way you’ll be able to cut faster and are at less risk of breaking the small knives on large pieces.
Carving straight in and out is generally the advised technique. This is what makes the pumpkins look the best. However, one of my pumpkin carving tips is to NOT carve straight lines. Rather you can elongate the life of an intricate design by cutting your pieces at an angle instead. Cut your pieces so the inside flesh is wider than the cut marks on the outside skin. Because the skin is darker than the inside flesh, the wider insides will be barely noticed when the pumpkin is lit at night, but it will last much longer.
The important thing to know when carving is that you will break knives; it’s inevitable. Blades on the little saws are very tiny and even with perfect holding technique, they will snap eventually. You can prolong their lives, however, by avoiding too much bending of the blades. Try to keep the blade mostly upright when you’re carving, and again, only use the small knives for the small pieces.
To preserve your pumpkin a little longer, you can coat the cut edges with petroleum jelly (or if you’re lazy like me, just spray the cut edges with a cooking oil like Pam). Make sure to tip the water out of your pumpkin if it gets rained on. If the pumpkin starts to dry and shrivel, spray it with a few doses of water to rehydrate it.
So hope you’ve found some of these pumpkin carving tips helpful. Like anything, practice makes perfect. Here’s wishing you happy carving and a Happy Halloween. I leave you with a compilation of some of the pumpkins my siblings and I carved in past years to hopefully inspire some of your own designs.
Copyright © Amber Reifsteck ~ The Woodland ElfEnjoy this post? Click here to subscribe by email and get new posts delivered to your inbox.