Halloween’s quickly creeping up on us and now’s the perfect time to start the festivities. Put together your costume, buy some candy and carve a pumpkin! Pumpkin carving is a prominent part of celebrating Halloween, and decades of experience have made it an art form. So for any first-timers or readers looking to improve their skills this year, here are some expert tips on carving pumpkins.
Picking Out Your Pumpkin
When shopping for your pumpkins, stay away from any with bruises, weak or soft spots, deep cuts and scrapes, or mold on the sides or stem. Larger pumpkins work best for displaying intricate designs, but smaller ones might work better for small children, as they are easier to handle. Look for pumpkins that are firm, but hollow with thin walls, to avoid strenuous sawing.
Preparing to carve your pumpkins is a must. For an easier cleanup, set out a tarp or newspapers and do your carving outside if the weather allows. Set out a bowl for the seeds and a garbage can for the messy pumpkin goop. Next, gather your tools. You should have various saws for cutting and a flat metal tool for scraping. Generally, these are sold together in pumpkin carving kits at your local grocery store during the Halloween season. The final and most important step of preparing to carve your pumpkin is picking a design! You can get creative or stick with a classic jack-o’-lantern grin.
Carving Your Pumpkin
Start out by applying your chosen design into the surface of your pumpkin. You can do this by printing out or purchasing a stencil, or drawing your own design on your pumpkin with a pencil or black washable marker. Either way, make sure to apply something for reference to avoid making mistakes when you start cutting.
Next, you can either cut a hole in the top or bottom of your pumpkin. Cutting around the stem at an angle allows you to place the top back on and gives ultimate ventilation to candles, if that’s your light of choice. Cutting a hole at the bottom lets you set your pumpkin over the light, so you don’t have to stick your hand in it to turn on the bulb or light the candle. In addition, a lot of the mess inside of a pumpkin seems to be stuck to the bottom, and cutting it out saves you the task of scraping it out scoop-by-scoop. Whichever method you chose, you next step is to clean out the pumpkin. Scoop the seeds into a bowl and everything else into a garbage can. This can usually be done with your hands, but you’ll have to then use a flat tool to clean the sides of the pumpkin. If the pumpkin walls are more than an inch thick, scrape the inside of the area you’re going to use until it’s thin enough to easily carve.
Once the inside is clean and your design is applied, you’re ready to start carving! Start from the inside and carve outward, so your arm or hand is always resting on a strong part of the pumpkin. Saw slowly and begin with the bigger pieces before moving on to smaller details. After you’re done, remove your stencil or wash off any remaining marks. Consider using metal cookie cutters or rods to cut fun shapes or polka dots around your pumpkin, if sawing a design doesn’t appeal to you.
Now that your design is complete, your pumpkin is almost ready for display. Some carvers swear by various means of pumpkin preservation to make these works of art last longer, but your pumpkin will last one to two weeks without any additional treatment. If you’re interested in making it last longer, techniques include soaking the pumpkin in a bleach solution, spraying it with an acrylic finish and coating the carved areas with Vaseline. After that, take the seeds you set aside and wash them until they’re clear of any pumpkin residue. Coat them with salt and pepper or cinnamon and sugar and bake them on a cookie sheet at 400 degrees until they’re golden brown.
The next step is choosing how you want to light your pumpkin. Traditionally, candles are used, but they burn out quickly and can be a pain to light. You can use tea lights or glow sticks, and if you have access to an outlet, a string of Christmas lights or a single bulb. Some stores sell battery powered bulbs specifically for jack-o’-lanterns, and those work well.
Your last and final step is setting out your pride and joy for your whole neighborhood to see! These tips make for the easier carving process and best results. So get shopping, make a plan and get carving.