Your First Time: Carving a Pumpkin

(Image Credit: Alliance)

(Image Credit: Alliance)

The first jack-o’-lanterns were supposedly carved in Ireland, except instead of using pumpkins, the carvers used turnips (weird, I know). The spooky lanterns were meant to represent the strange phenomenon of flickering lights over peat bogs, known as will-o’-the wisp. The pumpkin lanterns were meant to represent the faces of spirits and goblins. Nowadays, the tradition of carving pumpkins is widespread and, in America especially, has friendlier symbolism: come trick or treat here; we’ve got candy!

So you’ve never carved a pumpkin, eh? No worries, you’re talking to expert and I’ll break it down for you in as many easy to follow steps as possible.

What you’ll need:

  • A pumpkin
  • A pumpkin carving kit with tools
  • A design pattern
  • A garbage bag
  • A sharpie
  • Tape
  • A  spoon or two
  • A candle

Choosing your pumpkin.

So, pretty basic first step, right? WRONG. This is a crucial moment. The pumpkin you select to carve sets the mood for entire carving. Do you want a jolly pumpkin? Go big and round. A creepy pumpkin? Lopsided and slightly off color. A magical pumpkin? Upside down trapezoidal shape with a stem that still has some curly-q vines coming off of it. No pumpkin is identical to another. Contemplate and do not dive onto the first pumpkin you see. Really think it through and make the right decision.

Creating/selecting a design.

As a beginner, you would do best to pick up one of those nifty premade pumpkin carving packets. They’ll offer several designs and a series of tools. ROOKIE MISTAKE: do not assume a knife will suffice; get those extra tools. My personal favorite is the electric drill- your line work will be far more precise. Pick a design that really speaks to you and that most relates to the idea you had in mind. Those templates not working? Go online and type in “jack-o’-lantern pattern.” Thousands will be available in google images.  And if that’s still not cutting it for you, create your own template. Being a beginner, do yourself a favor and don’t make your design too difficult. One mistake will throw off your entire pumpkin and could result in a total disaster. Remember, in most designs, the areas which the light will be coming through will be shaded in on your design.

Preparing your pumpkin.

Preparing your pumpkin should be treated as a serious operation. One wrong cut and it can all go wacky. Place your pumpkin on a spread out garbage bag; it’s about to get messy. Draw a circle surrounding the stem with a sharpie. You’ll want about two inches from the stem to the outside of your circle. Using a knife (or a pumpkin saw from your handy dandy kit), saw along the circumference you’ve just drawn. Plunging in once and sawing your way around will ensure you have the most precise cut. If you accidentally cut one part a little bit more than you do another, you risk your top falling through the hole when you go to put I back on.

Once you have successfully cut out the top portion, begin to scoop out the seeds either using your hands or one of the spoons. You can either dispose of the seeds or put them in a bowl to be cleaned and roasted later. You’ll want to scrape the pumpkin out as much as possible to avoid it rotting quickly. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Reach in, grab a handful, and pull. Lots of stringy stuff coming out is totally normal, don’t be alarmed.

Once your pumpkin is gutted, you’ll want to clean the outside off, chances being you’ve gotten some pumpkin splooge on the outside of it.

Carving the design.

You can either tape the design you’ve chosen directly onto your pumpkin, or you can freehand the design on. REMEMBER- you’re only cutting out the shaded portions (eyes, mouths, background behind a creepy castle, etc.). Using a knife, make your first incision along one of the shaded lines. Once the incision has been made, switch to the electric saw (or keep the knife if you insist) and gently saw around the outline of the shaded shape. The chunk of pumpkin should pop right out. If there is any resistance, retrace your line- you want to make sure you don’t tear any additional pumpkin away. Repeat for all shaded areas. Discard of all popped out pieces.

Lighting your jack-o’-lantern.

Once you’ve completed carving your pumpkin, you’ll want to place a candle in it. Avoid using tea lights, as they are too small and their light might not reach the height of your cut out portions. I recommend using a medium height candle for optimum lighting. Light the candle, place the top back on, and either shut off the lights, or move your pumpkin outdoors to bask in the glow of your spook.


There you have it! You have officially carved your first pumpkin and done a bang up job, if I do say so myself. Now snap a picture of you carving a pumpkin and share in the comments below! Happy Halloween!


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