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Pumpkin Carving


Without a doubt the most recognizable symbol of Halloween is a pumpkin carved into a jack-o-lantern. To understand the origins of how pumpkin carving began and what it really means we must first take a look at the holiday itself. How long has Halloween been around? Have there always been pumpkins carved? Here are some answers!

For most of the general population it is known as Halloween and is a night for dressing up, telling ghost stories, having spooky parties, trick-or-treating and pumpkin carving. What most people don't know is that Halloween is actually based on an ancient Celtic holiday known as Samhain (pronounced "sow wan"), which means "summer's end".

It was the end of the Celtic year, starting at sundown on October 31st and going through to sundown November 1st. It was a night to honor loved ones that had passed on since the veil between their realm and ours is at it's thinnest on that night.

Celebrated for centuries by the Celts of old, Witches and many other nature based religions, it is the most magical night of the year. It is the Witches' New Year, and the Last Harvest. Although the religious significance of it has passed for the general public, Halloween is a "magical" night for all!

On this magical night, glowing jack-o-lanterns, carved from turnips or gourds, were set on porches and in windows to welcome deceased loved ones, but also to act as protection against malevolent spirits. Burning lumps of coal were used inside as a source of light, later to be replaced by candles.

When European settlers, particularly the Irish, arrived in American they found the native pumpkin to be larger, easier to carve and seemed the perfect choice for jack-o-lanterns. Halloween didn't really catch on big in this country until the late 1800's and has been celebrated in so many ways ever since!


Selecting the pumpkins you'll carve for your Halloween Jack-O'-Lanterns is very important. You'll need to pick pumpkins according to what you want to carve on them. Whether it's simply carving a pumpkin to sit on the door step or holding pumpkin carving parties and contests, this age old tradition is a main event for young and old alike.

Depending on the variety, pumpkins can range in size anywhere from tiny to humongous. Medium sized ones work best for most stencils that you'll make or buy. Very large pumpkins can be carved with elaborate designs and used as "center pieces" on your porch or tables. Small pumpkins work fine for carving traditional faces, they can be done fast and you can have many of them scattered about for parties, haunts or up your sidewalk as a lighted pathway.

Advance planning is the key to your pumpkin carving success.
First, decide before buying your pumpkins what designs you will be carving into them. This will allow you to create a shopping list or at least a mental idea of the shapes and sizes of pumpkins you'll need.

For standard carving without a stencil, decide if it should be tall and narrow, or more rounded, based on your ideas. Select pumpkins that are uniformly orange meaning that are ripe, have no bruises, cuts or nicks. If you will be using a stencil to carve your pumpkin, select a pumpkin that is large enough and as close to the same shape as the pattern you're going to carve. It should be as smooth as possible, and free of scratches, dents or gouges.

Never carry a pumpkin by its stem; it may break. If it does break-off you can use toothpicks as a basic patch. Care should be taken not to bruise during transport or storage, as this will shorten their life-span.

If you find a perfect pumpkin but it's missing it's stem, have no fear! You can still use it! Just carve the bottom out for the opening the same way you would do the top. Then, you just sit your light source on the cleaned bottom piece and sit the pumpkin over it. Works great and you don't need the stem for a lid handle!


To carve a good Jack-O-Lantern, you need the right tools for the job! They have to be sharp enough, flexible, thin and sturdy.
Most of what you will need you may already have in your kitchen or can be purchased in the kitchen section at your local department store.

Use a long, thin bladed boning knife to cut the top hole and any large pieces out of the face of the pumpkin. Took a small paring knife to the grinder to make a very thin bladed knife for detail work.

Tools for transferring and cutting out paper stencil patterns.

Cutting Saw: This tool is essential for carving fine, detailed areas, but can be used for carving the entire Jack-O-Lantern.

Poker Tool: This is used to transfer your designs onto the face of the pumpkin. An ice pick or nail can be used for this. An artist's Stylus tool makes a great Poker Tool and can be found at most craft and art supply stores.

Grease Pencils: If you are going to carve your pumpkins freehand, using a grease pencil to pre-mark the shapes to be cut is a great way to make sure you get what you cut. They are available at most department stores or at arts and craft stores.

Patterns: Called pumpkin carving patterns, stencils or templates, you can make these on your computer, download pre-made ones off the Internet or buy them during the Halloween season in booklets.

Gutting Spoons: You could use several different types and sizes of spoons for removing the seeds, pulp and skin from the inside of the pumpkin. An ice-cream scoop and a large metal ladle work great to scrap the inside of the pumpkin to remove the guts.


A well carved pumpkin will impress your friends, neighbors and best of all, you're trick-or-treaters!

Carving a pumpkin into a Jack-O'-Lantern freehand is the traditional way of doing it, is very easy and only takes a few basic tools. A large spoon or ice-cream scoop, a thin bladed knife and some newspaper will get you started.

With a long, thin bladed knife, cut out the top of the pumpkin around the stem of the pumpkin. The hole should be large enough to allow you to scoop out the guts (seeds and stringy membrane) by hand and with a large spoon. Generally, the size of the hole should be about two-thirds the diameter of the pumpkin. While you can cut a round circle out, you'll find that cutting a five or six sided opening will work the best. As you cut out the top hole, angle the knife so that the lid and hole will be somewhat cone shaped. This will help prevent the lid from falling into the hole. Now you can use a large spoon to scrap the inside walls of the pumpkin clean.

Inspect the surface of the pumpkin to decide the best side to carve you face. Now, visualizing the face you want to carve, use your knife to carefully cut out the individual parts of the face or you can pre-marked the pumpkin by using a Crayon to draw the face onto the surface of the pumpkin and cut through the lines you drew. When you are finished cutting, carefully push out the pieces to view the final results.

Make sure that you have scrapped the bottom of the pumpkin flat, so that the candle will sit level in the pumpkin. We prefer the traditional use of candles to illuminate our Jack-O'-Lanterns. A Votive candle, placed in a clear glass candle holder is safer and will actually last longer. Also, plain white candles give off the most light and will illuminate the inside of your Jack-O'-Lantern the best.


You can carve some truly beautiful and artistic pumpkins freehand, but if you want to create really detailed carvings you'll want to use a stencil. And all you'll need is a couple of extra tools to cut out the patterns.

A Carving Saw is essential for carving fine, detailed areas, but can be used for the entire Jack-O-Lantern.
A Transfer Tool is used to transfer your designs onto the face of the pumpkin.
Carving Stencils can be drawn either freehand onto paper or use your computer to make your pattern.

Prepare the pumpkin as you would for basic carving, i.e. cut out the top hole and gut the pumpkin out. Select the paper stencil you want to use and trim the excess paper from it with scissors. Be sure to leave at least a 1/2 inch border for the tape to go on. Attach the stencil to the face of the pumpkin with tape. Top first, then the bottom and lastly the sides. You may have to crease the stencil to tape the corners, if so, try to make the creases where the pattern will be distorted the least.

Using the Transfer Tool, press the pointed tip into and through the design lines on the paper stencil spaced about a 1/8 of an inch apart. Complex and thin designs might require the dots to be a little closer together. The tip of the Transfer Tool should be pushed in just enough to go through the paper and the outer skin of the pumpkin, not all the way through the pumpkin.

It's important that you take your time when transferring the pattern from the stencil. Remember, you're making guide lines for sawing. Before removing the stencil, look it over carefully to make sure that all the lines have been transferred clearly. Once the paper stencil is removed you'll see the outline of the stencils pattern marked on the face of the pumpkin via little dots. Once you remove the stencil be sure to save it in case you need to refer to it while carving.

Using the Carving Saw, push the tip of the saw-blade into a pattern hole and saw through the design lines with short back-and-forth motions. Basically, you're playing "сonnect the dots". It's important to remember that these are "saws", not knives. The saw is not used in the same way as a knife. You never cut with it, you saw with it.

Take your time and follow the pattern edges carefully. Always align the saw blade to make the cuts straight into the pumpkin. When making sharp corners, remove the saw and re-insert it at the new angle. To make removal of the pieces easier you can cut them into smaller section while still in the pumpkin. Then carefully push out all of the cut pieces with your finger or an un-sharpened pencil.

Once you've removed all of the cut pieces, carefully trim the inside edges of the pumpkin of any excess flesh with the Carving Saw or a small knife. We like to carve the excess off at about a 45 degree angle. This allows more light to come through, showing your design to it's fullest. Remove any cut pieces that have fallen inside the pumpkin from your carving. Coat the edges with petroleum jelly.


Candles and Holders
Candles have been the age old method of illuminating Jack O' Lanterns since, well, forever. Regular Votive candles, placed in clear glass candle holders like the one shown to the right, are safer, brighter and will last a lot longer than exposed candles. This size candle is suitable for medium to large pumpkins. For small candles you may want to use the small tea-light candles. Votive candles and clear glass candle holders are available at most department, hardware and art stores. If you use candles to light your pumpkins, or for any other Halloween activity, remember, to never leave a lit candle unsupervised. Never use a lit candle in an artificial pumpkin.

Glow Sticks
Another option for illuminating your Jack O' Lantern is to use one or more glow sticks placed inside the pumpkin. This can actually produce an eerie effect. While this is probably the safest way to light a Jack O' Lantern, most of the glow sticks you find for sale in stores are not very bright. There are high intensity glow sticks, but they don't produce light as long and are expensive. If you do use this method you'll want to place your Jack O' Lantern in a very dark area, so that you can see the light being emitted from the glow stick.

Halloween Safety
Never, ever, use an AC powered device to light your Jack O' Lantern. Its just to dangerous, particularly with some many safe lighting options available. Remember, any fire, no matter how small or protected has the potential for becoming a large and potentially disastrous one. Fire safety should always be the number one priority. Never leave a lit candle unsupervised. Never leave children unattended with a lit pumpkin, candles or other source of fire.


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