How to carve a pumpkin in 6 easy steps

To help you get started, we’ve put together a simple guide on how to carve a pumpkin below, with help from Liam Lapping.

  1. Choose a ripe pumpkin – you can find advice on spotting when a pumpkin is ripe to pick in our dedicated guide. Then, assemble the right tools – a serrated knife and large spoon or a pumpkin carving kit is best.
  2. Next, you’ll need to cut a circular hole to hollow it out. You have two choices for where to do this: the top or the bottom of your pumpkin. Liam suggests cutting the bottom – ‘this will stop the pumpkin from caving in from the top,’ he says. If you do this and plan to use a real candle rather than an LED one, bear in mind that you’ll need to cut away a small triangular hole in the top to act as a chimney. However, if you’d prefer to make a ‘lid’, cut a circle around the stalk at an angle, which will ensure it won’t fall in.
  3. Use a large spoon to scoop out the innards, including all the seeds, making the pumpkin nice and hollow. Working in a spiral motion is generally the most effective way of doing this. Place these in a bowl to save for composting or using later.
  4. Using a marker pen, draw out your spooky face or design.
  5. Cutting away from you with your serrated knife, carve out your design, removing any cut-out pieces as you go. Start with the smaller details to avoid breaking the pumpkin.
  6. Once your design is complete, add a tea light to the inside and voila, you have a perfect pumpkin!

Using special pumpkin carving tools will make the job easier

(Image credit: Rebecca Nelson/Moment Open/Getty Images)

Light up the pumpkin

If using a votive candle, place it inside, then place the pumpkin on top. The pumpkin won’t last as long because the heat will gradually soften the flesh over time. Other good options are battery operated votive candles or small LED string lights. Don’t forget to blow out any real candles or turn off the lights at the end of the night.

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Ways to transfer your design to a pumpkin

  1. Draw directly on the gourd with a water-based marker.
  2. Create a design on paper or find one online. Tape the paper to the pumpkin, and then, using a sharp point, like a push pin or steak knife, make a series of tiny pin pricks along the design. Remove the paper and use the pin pricks as a cutting guide.
  3. Do your design on paper. Cut out the shapes that you will be cutting out of the pumpkin. Tape those onto the pumpkin with scotch tape or painters tape. Cut around the shapes.
  4. Use cookie cutters to first punch in a shape and then finish cutting out with a knife.

2. You Have More Space to Carve

The cuts for the lid reduce the amount of space you have to carve. This is especially true when you're cutting a smaller pumpkin, since you have to cut the lid large enough to fit your hand through.

By cutting the hole on the bottom, where you can't see it, you have more space at the top to carve without hitting the lid.

Is there nothing left in the pumpkin patch but misshapen, wobbly pumpkins? No problem! You can level them up when you cut from the bottom.

Photo by Erica Marsland Huynh on Unsplash; Canva

Inside the Lines

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The uneven surface of a pumpkin poses a challenge to any carver trying to follow a stenciled design. Smooth out the process with three simple materials: tape, thumbtacks, and baby powder. Use tape to attach your stencil to the pumpkin, and then poke tiny holes along the outlines with pins or thumbtacks. Remove the stencil and sprinkle baby powder over the pumpkin’s surface. The white powder will fill in the tiny holes, making them easier to see while carving.  Related: 29 Bewitching Ways to Decorate a Pumpkin istockphoto.com

Household Helpers

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Although pumpkin carving kits have all the necessary tools for slicing and chopping, the dull saws and flimsy scrapers aren’t always effective. Many household tools work just as well, if not better, for pain-free carving. Effortlessly slice the top of the pumpkin with a kitchen knife, remove the insides with a sturdy spoon or ice cream scoop, and carve your design with an X-Acto knife. You can even bring power tools, saws, and art supplies into the mix. Whichever carving tools you decide to use, work slowly and carefully, and supervise children whenever sharp cutting tools are close at hand. Related: Say Hello to Fall with 21 Quick and Easy DIYs istockphoto.com

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Step three: draw out your design

Draw or trace your desired design on the pumpkin with a marker, pen, or pencil. 

Now, begin carving out your design using the carving knife. Always cut at a 45-degree angle rather than straight in: you’ll make fewer errors, and the openings will let in more light. For very small bits like the eyes, you may need to go in from the inside to make enough of an opening. 

Jason White, the founder and CEO of All About Gardening recommends etching for a professional finish when carving your pumpkin. 

‘Etch the details on your pumpkin surface to give it depth and 3D volumes and make it stand out like a pro. Etching will give your pumpkin design shade and texture by giving it highlights.’ 

‘Plan the parts of your design where you want certain shadows and light to be, and strategize your carving and etching around this. Carve shallowly for the areas you want shadowed and carve deeper for the areas you want to have brighter highlights.’

(Image credit: Alberto Jose Moreno jurado Getty Images)

Top Pumpkin Carving Tips

Top tip: If you’re doing a two-tone design with shaved bits, first draw your design on paper, pin it to the pumpkin, and make a carving map by pricking the surface of the pumpkin with the tip of your knife or with another pin. Then, make a thin incision along the perimeter of your design. Shave small bits of skin off with a kitchen knife, always away from yourself, stopping at the boundary you’ve made. Always do the shaved bits first, the carved-out bits second. Laura Ritterman, a cook, recipe connoisseur and household decor enthusiast says, ‘Try incorporating extra facial features like eyebrows, eyelashes or small holes for freckles. Adding more dimension to your pumpkin really brings it to life and looks much better than a simple jack o’lantern.’ ‘Always trace out the places you are going to cut so you have a guide and the face or sculpture does not turn out lopsided.’

Step 9. Keep your pumpkin fresh

Natiello recommends spreading petroleum jelly on the cut edges to seal in moisture. If your pumpkin still shrivels a few days later, you can revive it with a facedown soak in cold water for up to eight hours.

How to carve a pumpkin step-by-step

As Cameron suggests, the first thing you’ll need to decide is on your design. You could go for a simple cut-out design, or a more intricate two-tone design where parts are shaved off rather than completely carved out. For either type of design, you will need:

  • A sharp, serrated knife or pumpkin carving knife 
  • A small kitchen knife
  • A table spoon
  • A marker or pen
  • A pin and paper if doing a two-tone design
  • Bleach or all-purpose disinfectant

Top tip: Pumpkin carving can get a little messy, so we like doing it out in the garden, but you can do it in the kitchen – just make sure whatever surface you’ll be carving on is lined with newspapers. 

Choosing a pumpkin is also important. The larger, more evenly surfaced the pumpkin, the easier it will be to achieve a neat design. Avoid pumpkins with too many grooves and imperfections. 

Step 3. If you do carve from the top, cut out the lid on an angle

This way it won’t drop inside the pumpkin when you put it back on top, like it would with a straight up-and-down cut. A boning knife should work well for this.

Cut the pumpkin lid

Cut the bottom of the pumpkin instead of the top around the stem. This area keeps the pumpkin design cleaner and the top from drying out and falling inside overtime. I cut at a 45-degree angle in a circle that is just large enough to fit the scraper tool and your fist. The angled cut also makes it easier for the pumpkin to sit on top with a better seal on the bottom, if using.

Fun Carving Ideas for Pumpkins Cut From the Bottom

Frequently asked questions

Which are best for carving pumpkins, serrated knives from the kitchen or pumpkin carving kits with special saws?

Both work. On one hand, what you have in your kitchen is right there. On the other hand, the kits you buy at the store may be safer for children to use. However, they are usually not terribly sturdy or long-lasting.

How long will my carved pumpkin look good?

It depends on your climate. For those in warmer climes, the cut pumpkin starts to rot within two days. If it is below freezing where you live, maybe 10 days? The average is about five days. The lesson: do not carve too far in advance.

How can I lengthen the life of my monsterpiece? There are a few tricks. You can try coating the inside and cut parts with petroleum jelly or make a dilution of 1 teaspoon bleach to 1 gallon of water (or a weak dilution of Castille soap and water – safer for wildlife.) Spray these all over the jack-o-lanterns daily.

Is Halloween really Halloween if you don’t carve a pumpkin?

What can you do with the leftover pumpkin after you’ve finished carving?

So, you’ve learned how to carve a pumpkin. But what can you do with all the leftovers? It seems a shame to waste them, however research conducted by surplus food experts Too Good To Go has found that more than two thirds of Brits don’t know what to do with the leftover pumpkin flesh and seeds.

The team share their tips on how to turn pumpkin seeds into a delicious and nutritious snack:

  1. Scoop the seeds from the pumpkin, then do your best to separate as much of the stringy pulp as possible from the seeds.
  2. Place the seeds in a bowl with water, and whisk quickly. The seeds will separate from the remaining pulp, and float to the top.
  3. Press the seeds with a tea towel to dry them, then place them on a baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss to coat.
  4. Bake at 170°C (338°F) for 10–15 minutes, or until crunchy.

There are other yummy treats you can make with your pumpkin leftovers – our guide on what to do with a pumpkin after Halloween has more ideas.

Leftover pumpkin can be used to make delicious snacks

(Image credit: Alberto Jose Moreno jurado/Moment/Getty Images)

And when its time to light your pumpkin:

Simply set your pumpkin over top of a lit candle!

Check out how we decorated our pumpkin this year!  No scary faces here!  I pulled out he power drill and a large bit, and riddled our pumpkin with holes. It was so fun and easy to do, and the results are so pretty!

What do you think?

This sure makes the whole pumpkin carving business a lot easier doesn’t it?

However, if you prefer a more traditional jack-o-lantern, Spaceships and Laser Beams has over 700 FREE carving stencils for you to get creative with!  More than enough to get you and your entire family through a life-time of pumpkin carving!

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