Pumpkin carving is one of my favorite parts of Halloween! My family and I carved pumpkins every year when I was a kid, and it’s a great family activity because you can do it at any skill level! I figured everyone carved pumpkins, but I found out last year that my husband had never carved a pumpkin before! So whether you’re a newbie pumpkin carver or an old pro, today I’m sharing my top ten pumpkin carving tips and tricks to help you end up with a perfectly carved pumpkin every time!
I was just thinking it was time to carve pumpkins this year when I was contacted by Grampa Bardeen’s who offered to send me their new Family Pumpkin Carving Set, so of course I said yes! The carving set has all the tools you need to carve a great pumpkin, and it has enough tools that a family of 4-5 can carve together! I remember growing up that the hardest part of pumpkin carving was getting my brother and I to share the tools when we only had one or two saws, so this is great!
The kit contains 10 saws of varying sizes, 3 poking tools for transferring a design onto your pumpkin, two different-sized scoops, three different sized hand drills for creating perfect holes, 14 free patterns, and a newsletter full of great tips. The saw blades are all coated in Teflon to protect the blades from the acidic pumpkin juice and also to make cutting easier (and the Teflon also makes cleanup a breeze!) You can find the Family Pumpkin Carving Set on Amazon for just $45. Based on our experience this year, I can tell you for sure we will never carve pumpkins with anything else again! These tools are AMAZING and if you take care of them, they will last for years so you can use them again and again!
How To Carve A Pumpkin: Top 10 Tips & Tricks
The basic steps for carving a pumpkin are pretty simple; just pick a pattern (or create your own!), transfer it onto the pumpkin, and cut it out! But even though the idea is simple, the execution can be a bit tricky, so here are my top 10 tips and tricks for getting a perfectly carved pumpkin every time!
1. Pick the perfect pumpkin
Picking the perfect pumpkin is mostly subjective; if you love it, then it’s the perfect pumpkin for you. But try to find a pumpkin that isn’t soft or bruised and has a clean, smooth surface on one side for carving. I like bright orange pumpkins best; they tend to be thicker and last a long time. JM likes duskier orange pumpkins; they’re a little bit thinner and easier to carve, as are yellower pumpkins. Also pay attention to the shape of the pumpkin; if you have a tall, skinny pattern, you probably don’t want a round pumpkin or your pattern won’t fit well!
Note: While pumpkins are still readily available in October, you might think about buying an extra pumpkin or two and keeping them until Thanksgiving. That way you don’t have to settle for the leftover, bruised pumpkins if you want to carve a simple geometric design and use them as part of your Thanksgiving tablescape!
2. Clean the pumpkin and soak it in water overnight
Scrub the dirt off your pumpkins with a coarse sponge, then soak your pumpkins in a bucket of water for about 8 hours or overnight. This will allow the pumpkins to soak up water and firm up, making it easier to carve them and making them last longer once they are carved. If you want, add a dash of bleach into the water to prohibit mold and bacteria growth in the pumpkins as well.
Note: Pumpkins float because they’re hollow! Flip the pumpkins over halfway through so that both halves of the pumpkin can soak up some extra water.
3. Cut the top (or bottom) off the pumpkin and scoop out the insides
Use a big, serrated knife to cut off the top of your pumpkin. (You can also cut a hole in the bottom of the pumpkin if you want to leave the top and stem intact, but I always cut the top off because that way I can stand the pumpkin on the counter while cutting and scooping out the insides.) The Family Pumpkin Carving Set comes with 2 really big saws meant for this part, so that’s what we used. Angle the bottom of the saw in as you cut so that the top of the pumpkin doesn’t fall into the hollow pumpkin cavity once you finish cutting. I also like to carve a tiny notch in my lid so I don’t have to rotate it around to get it to fit perfectly back together later. 🙂
Once you have the lid off, grab a scoop and start scooping out all the insides. Save the pumpkin seeds if you want to roast them! Scrape the scoop against the inside of the pumpkin to remove all the stringy pumpkin bits. If your pumpkin is super thick, you can scrape away some of the pumpkin flesh from the inside to make it easier to carve. And make sure you scrape out a flat surface on the bottom of the pumpkin so that the candle has a stable place to sit once you’re done!
4. Attach and transfer your pattern
Start by printing our your pattern on a piece of paper. The pumpkin carving kit came with a bunch of awesome patterns, but I really wanted to do a hissing cat, so I made my own!
Decide which face of your pumpkin you’re going to carve on, and attach your pattern. Since pumpkins are round and paper is flat, the easiest way to do this is to center your design on the paper, fold a few pleats in at the corners so the paper lays flat against the pumpkin, and tape the corners down.
If you look at the bottom of the pattern in the photo above you’ll see the lines are a little messed up from the fold, but don’t worry if this happens to you! When you transfer the pattern you can just “fudge” that line a little bit so that it is smooth on your finished pumpkin.
If you like the pumpkins JM and I made this year, I created patterns for you that you can download! You can find the cat pattern I used on my pumpkin here, or the winky emoticon pattern JM used on his pumpkin here.
Once the pattern is attached to your pumpkin, poke holes through the paper and into the pumpkin along the lines of the pattern. The holes don’t need to be super close together, but make sure they’re close enough that you don’t lose the detail of the pattern when you remove the paper. Remove the paper once you’re done transferring the design.
5. Carve your pumpkin!
Start with the most detailed part of the design. This means you get the hard part out of the way first, and if it’s the first part you cut, you can rest your hands on solid pumpkin rather than having to work around a bunch of pieces that are already cut out. If your pattern doesn’t have one part that is more detailed than any other, then (if you’re right handed) start at the left edge of your pattern and work towards the right so your hand can rest on solid pumpkin as you work. If you’re left-handed, start from the right side.
Basically carving a pumpkin is just removing pieces of pumpkin around your design so that the light can show through. Start by taking one of the general saws and push it straight down into the pumpkin at the beginning of the line you are carving. Then gently saw straight up and down, curving to connect the dots and follow the pattern. I usually set the pumpkin on the counter face up and rotate it as I move around the design so that I am always sawing straight up and down.
If you have sharp corners, just pull the saw out of the pumpkin and put it back in again pointing in a new direction to cut the next line; this way you don’t have to force the saw to make a sharp turn. Remember that you can always extend your cut into the section of pumpkin you are going to remove if you are having trouble carving sharp corners; it doesn’t matter because that part of the pumpkin will be removed anyway!
Once you have an entire section of pumpkin cut out, pull that section out of the pumpkin. Run the saw around all the edges a second time to make sure the piece is completely free and if you need to, you can cut the piece into smaller sections and remove them one at a time to make it easier.
Continue carving your pumpkin and removing pieces until your entire pattern is carved. Don’t worry if the angle of your saw wasn’t perfectly perpendicular to the pumpkin; as long as you connected the dots on the surface of the pumpkin, you can always carve away more of the fleshy interior of the pumpkin later to let more light out through the holes.
6. Use a hand drill to remove stubborn pieces
If you have trouble pulling out the sections of pumpkin, drill one of the hand drills into the extra piece and use it as a handle to pull the piece out of the pumpkin.
7. Clean up your pumpkin
Once you’re done carving, clean out any extra pieces that fell back inside your pumpkin. Then take a damp paper towel and wipe off the outside of the pumpkin. Pumpkin guts are kinda sticky, so make sure you wipe it down everywhere so it doesn’t dry on the outside of your pumpkin.
8. Rub vaseline on the cut edges
Use your fingers or another paper towel to rub some vaseline on all the cut edges. This will help seal in the water and keep your pumpkin from drying out too quickly. Pay special attention to any skinny pieces of your design (like the legs on my cat) because those will dry out first.
9. Add some spices to the lid for a great fall scent when lit!
I did this last year, and it was awesome! Take a pinch of ground cinnamon and a pinch of ground nutmeg and rub them onto the lid of your pumpkin. This way when you light a candle inside the pumpkin and put the lid back on, the candle warms the spices and makes your house smell wonderful!
Note: If you cut out the bottom of your pumpkin to remove the seeds, just reach up in there and rub the spices on the roof of your pumpkin. It will still smell great!
10. Add a candle, light it, and enjoy!
All that’s left to do is stick a candle in your pumpkin. If you don’t have a flat surface for the candle to sit on, unwind a paper clip, stick one end into the bottom of your candle, then stick the other end of the paper clip into the flesh of the pumpkin. The paper clip will hold the candle stable and upright so you can safely light it!
Use a long match or a long BBQ lighter to light the candles inside your pumpkin, and enjoy!
Bonus tip: If your pumpkin starts to dry out, remove the candle and put it back in a bucket of water. Make sure the cut side is face down and leave it in the water for a few hours.
Once you’re all done, clean up your carving utensils with soap and water and wipe down your counter or table to get rid of all the pumpkin goo. I’m pretty sure these tools are going to last forever; I’m really happy with how sturdy they are! If you want to get a Family Pumpkin Carving Set of your own, you still have time before Halloween! And if you’re an Amazon Prime member, shipping is free!
Are you carving pumpkins this year? Any idea what pattern you’re going to carve?
Disclosure: I received compensation from Grampa Bardeen’s in exchange for my honest discussion of their product. But I have never had an easier time carving a pumpkin than when I used their tools; I love them and plan to use them every year from now on! All opinions in this post are 100% my own; I would never write a post about something I didn’t think was useful or interesting for you guys, and Practically Functional will only publish sponsored posts for companies or products I love and believe in! 🙂
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