Pumpkin Carving

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You will need:

  • One or more pumpkins or watermelons. Choose pumpkins with a rounded surface that are rich in colour, with no wormholes, nicks, bruises, dents or cuts and a sturdy stem, which is the sign of a healthy pumpkin. Although lighter-colored pumpkins are easier to carve, they do not last as long. Pick up the pumpkin and shake it. If it feels heavy and you can hear a slushy sound, it is a sign that it is rotting.

  • Carving tools (see below).

  • Candles. Oil-burning, liquid candles last longer, but these do not extinguish themselves, so it is crucial that these are not left unattended. Votive candles placed in clear, heat-proof holders are safer and also have a longer life span than traditional candles, with white candles giving off the most light. All candles, though, must be checked regularly because of fire hazards. There are safer alternatives such as glo-sticks, which are chemical-filled plastic tubes that glow for hours, battery powered "tap lights", a 40-watt bulb, or even Christmas tree lights.

  • Felt pens or magic markers, which are the safest way for children to help you transfer your pattern onto the pumpkin.

Preparing and Preserving the Pumpkin

  • Wash the pumpkin in water to remove any residual mud and then add a little bleach to a bowl of water and soak the pumpkin, which helps to kill any insects or fungi.
  • Rub all of the cut surfaces with petroleum jelly to prevent from drying out.
  • Space permitting, keep the carved pumpkins in the refrigerator to prevent premature decomposition.

    >You can buy Pumpkin Preserver, a non-toxic, environmentally-friendly spray that helps to prolong the life of carved pumpkins or, alternatively, you can keep the pumpkin moist by spraying with a plant mister. Make sure, however, that when you put the pumpkin out on display that you dry it properly to prevent mould from forming.

Carving Tools

Some experts advise using a special pumpkin tool set and although this can be purchased relatively inexpensively, it is not absolutely necessary. However, if older children are helping in the carving process, it is advisable to use a childrenís saw, with non-sharp edges. Younger children should never carve, but can help draw the faces, for example. Most of the required tools can be found in your kitchen or garage as follows:

    >A sharp kitchen knife, with a long, durable blade should suffice for cutting the top hole and any other large pieces.
    >A tool for scooping out the pulp, such as a large spoon, soup ladle or ice-cream scoop.
    >A small paring knife can be used for smaller details.
    >A poker tool, such as an ice pick, a metal nail file, an artistís stylus tool or even an ordinary household nail can be used for transferring the design onto the pumpkin.

Choosing and Transferring a Design

There are many online sites that offer free design templates that you can download and re-size according to personal preference. Your children can draw their own design onto a piece of paper, which can then be pinned onto the pumpkin while you trace the design with a nail or small knife or, alternatively, use a poker tool to make holes through the paper drawing, which can make the cutting process easier. Spreading a little flour or baking power over the holes will make them more visible. However, one of the quickest methods is to copy your childís design directly onto the pumpkin with a felt tip or marker pen.

Carving The Pumpkin

    >You can involve your kids in the carving, as long as youíre right with them, watching them closely, and if necessary, holding their carving hands. Whatever you do, donít leave your kids to carve alone!
    >To minimize mess, place the pumpkin on a large black bin liner or on several pieces of newspaper.
    >Cut open the top of the pumpkin using a sawing motion, while angling the knife at approximately 45 degrees, so that when you replace the lid, it has a "shelf" to sit on and does not fall in. Pentagonal or hexagonal shapes are the easiest with which to work. If you are using candles, make sure the hole is large enough to allow ventilation. Cut a notch the back of the lid and the lantern as a guide for replacing and removing the lid. This also allows heat to escape if using real candles.
    >Scoop out the flesh and the seeds, making sure the base of the inside pumpkin is nice and flat, so that it can support a candle or light.
    >When you are ready to work on the body of the pumpkin, begin from the center of the design and work outwards, since the pumpkin becomes weaker each time you remove a piece.

  • Your carving tool should be held like a pencil, should always be perpendicular to the surface of the pumpkin, and should be used in a slow, sawing motion.
  • Cut pieces should always be pushed out with your fingers rather than the tool, but if an extra piece breaks off accidentally, you can patch it up by placing a couple of toothpicks into the broken-off area and pushing the piece back into place.
  • Before placing your choice of lighting inside your lantern, make sure you scrape the back of the pumpkin to a smooth surface to avoid the casting of any unwanted shadows.

Quick Tips

  • Put the pumpkin on its side and use the stem as an effective nose.

  • Put a sound sensor in the pumpkin so that it lights up whenever anyone approaches.

  • If your pumpkin starts to shrivel, soak it in water overnight.

Helpful Sites:

Interactive Pumpkin Carving Planner.

The Pumpkin Wizard. Wonderful templates, including famous movie stars, politicians, monsters and Star Wars characters.

Halloween Magazine. Everything you need to know about carving your own pumpkin masterpieces.

QLight. Offers a wide selection of glow products, including light sticks, necklaces, eyeglasses and cocktail stirrers, all reasonably priced.


Pumpkin Carving Book: How to Create Glowing Lanterns and Seasonal Displays

by Deborah Schneebli-Morell. price: $4.99 (used).

Pumpkin Decorating by Vicki Rhodes. price: $11.95 or $3.98 (used).