How to Carve a Pumpkin for Halloween

How to Carve a Pumpkin for Halloween

Pumpkin Carving Instructions: Cutting the Lid

Carve the lid out at an angle to keep it from falling in.

Before you start carving, cover your working surface with newspaper and put on your apron. Then:

1. Use the pencil or marker to draw a circle around the pumpkin’s stem. This will be the jack-o’-lantern’s lid. The circle should be about two-thirds the diameter of the pumpkin. It’s a good idea to include a small notch in the circle to help you align the lid correctly when you replace it. You can also use another shape for your lid, like a star or a hexagon. Some people prefer to cut a lid from the bottom rather than the top, since this can make it easier to replace and light candles.


2. Cut along the line using the boning knife. Point the knife inward (toward the center of the pumpkin) at about a 45-degree angle. This will keep the lid from falling down into the pumpkin.

3. Remove the lid from the pumpkin and cut or scrape away any pulp that is hanging from it.

Step 5. Sketch out your design on paper first

If you draw your jack-o’-lantern face to size, Natiello says you can use it as a pattern: Just tape it to the front of your pumpkin and use a fork or pencil to poke holes along the lines you want to carve. (Or save yourself from creative blocks by getting a pumpkin carving kit, complete with a marker, scraper, cutting tools, and pre-made patterns.)


Transferring the design

There are various pumpkin design options; draw a custom image or use a printed pattern. From there, tape the design on the flattest part of the pumpkin. I like to use a tool that has a needle tip or pushpin would work to pierce holes through the paper, about ⅛-inches apart. 

Remove the paper, and you can start carving along the dots. However, you can connect the dots with an erasable marker for more intricate designs, which is easy to wash off the surface. I also like to use a paring knife to make a shallow cut to refine the design, making it easier for etching. Don’t forget to save the design for reference. 

Another option is to cut the portions of the design to make a stencil. Then draw the image onto the pumpkin. I also taped an image on the pumpkin and then tightly placed plastic wrap around to secure it. This technique makes it waterproof, and easier to carve.

Recipe Resources

Health Notes Ingredient Guides Tools

Packet Protection


Silica gel packets, the tiny rectangular pouches that come with products like shoes and bags, can delay the growth of mold  in your pumpkins. Collect the packets throughout the year, and drop a few into your jack-o’-lantern for a longer-lasting creation. Just be sure not to place the packets on a lit candle! Related: 13 Insanely Easy Halloween Projects You Can DIY

Plan and Draw Your Design Before You Start Carving

When designing anything, it’s always a good idea to plan out your design before jumping in, especially when you are working with something (like a pumpkin) where there is no going back once you have made a cut! Use a pencil, ball point pen, or tracing paper to draw the design on the pumpkin and then get carving.

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.

Separate the Seeds and Goop

As you clean out the pumpkin, put the seeds and goop (aka the pulp) in a large bowl of cold water. Give it a few good stirs and a lot of the gunk will fall to the bottom of the bowl while the seeds float to the top. Once they are separated skim the seeds off the top. Pat the seeds dry and toss them with a little oil, and salt and pepper or give them a sweet and spicy treatment. Roast at 350ºF until until browned, 15 to 20 minutes.

Tips for carving pumpkins

  1. Make sure to cut the top at an angle. This helps prevent the lid from dropping inside the pumpkin when you put it back on top.
  2. Create an intentional divot or tab in the back of your pumpkin top. This makes the lid easier to align when taking on and off to relight.
  3. Consider cutting the bottom of the pumpkin instead of the top. This is a tip I got from Good Housekeeping that suggests cutting the bottom helps avoid the sides of the top caving in later.
  4. Sketch out your design on paper first. This helps to avoid mistakes when making your carvings on the pumpkin.
  5. Punch a smoke hole in the top – ideally on the backside behind the stem. This hole keeps the candle lit, by drawing the smoke out of the pumpkin like a chimney – great tips via Scout Life magazine.
  6. Remember to save the seeds – if you want to roast and eat them later.

Stay Hydrated


As moisture evaporates from your carved jack-o’-lantern, it will slowly turn brown and shriveled. Keep your pumpkin hydrated by applying petroleum jelly to the cut surfaces, which seals in moisture to slow down dehydration. You can also rub the jelly along the inside of the gourd for extra protection against rot. Related: 9 Home Repair Remedies to Borrow from Your Medicine Cabinet

Best Carving Tip Ever:

I cut off the BOTTOM of the pumpkin instead of the top!

That’s right, you cut off the BOTTOM.  Seriously.  Don’t you wish you’d thought of this years ago?

No more wrestling to get a lit candle down into the bottom of the pumpkin or struggling to light a candle that you’ve already placed inside!

Simply cut a hole in the bottom of your pumpkin, and remove that piece for good.  Most of the guts will be pulled out with it, so you’ll only have to give your pumpkin a quick scrape on the inside.

Save your pumpkin seeds for roasting!

Don’t forget to save the seeds so you can make our delicious roasted pumpkin seeds with olive oil and sea salt!

Now, go ahead and carve your jack-o-lantern like you usually would.

Carving a Pumpkin

Begin carving the pumpkin by tracing a lid. A dry erase marker was used for the tracing. A dry erase marker can be rubbed off easily after the cut is made. The lid above is a circle with a small notch. The notch will make replacing the lid easier when pumpkin carving is complete. Another option is to cut a pentagon (a polygon of five angles and five sides) or hexagon (a polygon of 6 angles and 6 sides) to serve as a lid.
Cut around the outline of the lid with a utility knife or carving saw. While cutting, hold the knife/saw at an angle, this will create a cone shaped lid that will prevent the lid from falling into the pumpkin when carving is finished.
Pull the stem to remove the cut lid. Depending on the thickness of the pumpkin, you may have to twist the lid to remove. Remove the pulp from the lid with a sharp utility knife.
Remove the strings and seeds from the inside of the pumpkin. Save the seeds in a separate container if you plan to make roasted pumpkin seeds.

After all the strings and seeds have been removed, scrape the walls of the pumpkin with a spoon or pumpkin scraper. For best carving results, it is recommended that the walls are 1″ thick in the area to be carved.

Tip: A canning jar lid also works great for cleaning out the inside of the pumpkin. The edges of the lid are sharp enough to do a good job of scraping the insides and lid is easy to handle when using.

With a dry erase marker, outline the face of your Jack-O-Lantern. The above outline was filled in to allow the viewer to see the outline clearly. Stencils are available for pumpkin carvings. The stencils are attached to the pumpkin with tape or push pins. The outline is drawn with a pencil or washable marker. Carve the face of the pumpkin with a sharpened knife or pumpkin saw.
Insert your light source, replace the lid and enjoy!

Step 10. Create a chimney

First, leave the lid on for a few minutes while the candle burns. Then make a small hole where the lid has blackened. Or, save yourself the stress and go with battery-operated votives instead.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.