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How to Carve the Perfect Pumpkin

Published by Nanni on Monday, October 22, 2012

Photo credit by shawncampbell

The key to the perfect Jack-o-Lantern is having everything you’ll need to carve it on hand, then locating the perfect pumpkin. The proper steps can also help preserve your work of art.

Finding the right pumpkin

Your Halloween display will have the most striking effect if you group four or five carved pumpkins. You should select your pumpkins according to what you want carved on them. For most stencils, a medium size is best. Smaller pumpkins are ideal for faces and can make a lighted pathway. Huge ones can accommodate elaborate designs and make great centerpieces.

Before you head out to buy any pumpkins, make a shopping list of the sizes and quantities you need. Also decide whether you plan to use stencils or free-form carving.

Potential selections that are ripe will be uniformly orange, without any cuts, nicks, or bruises. Thump each pumpkin and listen for a hollow sound. This means that it should be easy to scoop out. Avoid those with any soft spots and look for at least one smooth surface to carve.

Healthy pumpkins have strong, well-attached stems. The ones you select should also be able to stand up on their own.


Store uncut pumpkins in a cool, dry place and make sure to wash the exterior with a mixture of a teaspoon of chlorine bleach in a gallon of water to prevent mold before you start carving.

A basic set of knives should be sufficient to carve the perfect pumpkin. However, you might want to buy specialized saws and scoopers to make your Halloween decorating easier.

The basic supplies you’ll need are old newspaper, masking tape, a 6- to 8-inch sharp chef’s knife, and thin-bladed serrated knives or saws. You’ll also use a large tablespoon, a marker with a sharp tip, and an ice pick or a sharp nail for poking pattern outlines.

Prepping the pumpkin

Put the pumpkin on old newspaper to minimize the mess. Cut out the top around the stem using a long, thin-bladed knife so that you can scoop out the insides. If you want to insert a candle, also cut a small hole in the upper back part. This works like a chimney and allows heat to escape.

A large spoon is idea for scooping out the insides of a pumpkin. You can also buy a retail kit that includes a scooper. Make sure to remove all strings and seeds, leaving the pumpkin wall about an inch thick. The bottom should be flat if you intend to use a candle. Wash and dry the outside skin to remove any mold.

It’s almost always easier to draw the design on a piece of paper instead of on the pumpkin. You can also buy stencils in stores or on the Internet. After noting the flattest side, cut out the patterns and affix it to the pumpkin with masking tape. Use pinpricks or a light knife cut to outline the pattern, or draw it with a marker.

Carving and illuminating

For a few dollars, you can buy a pumpkin carving kit that makes doing detailed work much easier than when you use household knives. The first step is washing your hands with anti-bacterial soap.

Carve the small pieces first. Then begin the design from the center, going outward. Always cut shapes with a sawing motion and proceed slowly and gently. Never attempt to cut a design with a straight-edge knife. Push cutout pieces with your fingers, not with a saw or knife.

You should carve edges at an angle for smoother lines and enhanced illumination. Also consider designs on the back for great shadows.

Votive candles are the best type to light pumpkins. Place them in glass holders for safety and duration. Battery-powered lights are even safer and provide a fairly realistic flicker. Consider sprinkling a little cinnamon, nutmeg, and pumpkin spice of the pumpkin lid for a great fall scent.

Preserving the perfect pumpkin

Pumpkins can deteriorate quickly because of mold and dehydration. Most last only up to a week. During the day, move each pumpkin to a dry, shaded area. Once you’ve finished carving, spray the pumpkin with Lysol to kill any bacteria.

Rubbing a paper towel with petroleum jelly on it over all interior and exterior cut surfaces will seal in moisture. You can also purchase a product called Pumpkin Fresh to help preserve your masterpiece.

If your perfect pumpkin has already started to shrivel, try restoring it by soaking it in water overnight.

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