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» How to Carve a Halloween Jack-O-Lantern

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Take your Halloween pumpkin carving to another level with these tips!
Take your Halloween pumpkin carving to another level with these tips!

The kids have their Halloween costumes picked out and are eagerly anticipating trick or treating! And one of the best parts of Halloween for most kids is carving Jack O’ Lanterns.

Around our house pumpkin carving is a big deal and we like to try creative new ideas every year. So, we thought we’d share a few techniques, creative thought-starters and tips on carving pumpkins into award-winning Jack O’ Lanterns this Halloween.

When Halloween rolls around, it is impossible to run out of create way to carve your pumpkins. Some are frightful while others are fanciful, make a big wicked grin and the effect can be positively eerie!

Whether you transform a pumpkin into a goofy ‘smiler’ or a wicked, jagged-tooth vampire, jack o lanterns are guaranteed to make Halloween magic.

The Basics of Pumpkin Carving

Scooping out seeds and pumpkin goo is all part of the job; make this a fun activity for kids by keeping the pumpkin seeds to bake later.
Scooping out seeds and pumpkin goo is all part of the job; make this a fun activity for kids by keeping the pumpkin seeds to bake later.

Before we can go on and explore some design ideas we better run through the basic procedure for pumpkin carving as this is repeated no matter what design you create or choose:

  • Cut the lid or bottom off the pumpkin
  • Always the first step; or a small pumpkin you want roughly a 4”- diameter lid, whereas a larger pumpkin will need 6”- to 8”- diameter lid.
  • Use a larger size saw tool or a knife to cut out the lid, aim at an angle as it will provide a ledge for the lid to rest on. Also, remember to cut a key in the lid of your pumpkin as it will allow you to easily align the lid when you replace it.
  • Remove the pumpkin goo! Scoop out all the seeds and strings first (delicious!), then use a scraping tool to scrape out all the inside lining of the pumpkin. The walls will probably be about 1” thick. To gauge the thickness, simply poke a pin through the wall and measure how far in it goes.

Transfer the Design onto the Pumpkin

Marking the design on your pumpkin is essential to carving a good pumpkin design.
Marking the design on your pumpkin is essential to carving a good pumpkin design.

The key to a successful pumpkin design is a sharp, clear image. Some of the smallest tricks can make a huge difference to how easy this can be:

  • Draw your pattern on paper and then position this on the surface of the pumpkin. If you make cuts in the corners of the pattern towards the center, it will be easier to bend to the shape of the pumpkin.
  • Little pins that are used to hold corn on the cob are great for pinning these patterns down.
  • Another method is to use masking tape to stick your paper design to the side of the pumpkin.
  • Then, carefully punch holes (only piercing the surface!) along the outside of the pumpkin with a poking tool.
  • Check that everything is in line before removing the pattern. If you find you cannot easily see the punched holes, just dust the dots with flour and they’ll show up.

Poking Holes to Trace an Outline

  • BEFORE carving, if you poke some holes into the design, you’ll make the carving job easier. This must be done before you cut though or the pumpkin will become unevenly weak in places and could crack. This does require some pressure on the pumpkin so don’t be too nervous about that.
  • Use something sharp and small like a kitchen ice pick, corn on the cob holder or a paperclip to poke your holes; this makes carving as easy as ‘connect the dots’.

Jagged teeth are sure to make your Jack O Lantern scary and dramatic.
Jagged teeth are sure to make your Jack O Lantern scary and dramatic.

Pumpkin Carving Technique

The last step is to carve the design in. Use a saw tool and carve gently but firmly straight into the pumpkin at a 90 degree angle.

Start from the center of the design and work outwards with loose, smooth strokes. Whatever you do, do not rush; it’s a slow and steady job.

The point of taking your time can’t be emphasized enough; I am always the last one finished in our family, but the kids always say “Dad, how did you make yours so cool”?

The kids are getting a little more patient each year and I usually encourage them to carve a quick Jack O’ Lantern for immediate gratification first, and then do another that they take their time on and get more creative.

Jack O’ Lantern Designs

There isn’t a limit with to what you can do, but there is a smart way to go about it. You can pick any design, but make sure you use larger, strongly defined shapes. Pumpkins are thick and it’s very hard to carve the intricate delicate details.

Whatever you choose let it make optimum use of the space it is in, you don’t want too much bare pumpkin skin around it or the light inside won’t be effective. Also think about who will be coming to visit; a cutesy, simple design is loved by young children, but if the kids will be a bit older you might want something a bit more spooky or surprising.

A Perky Pumpkin Face

Pay attention to the eyes and mouth if you want a happy, smiling or thoughtful expression on your Jack O Lantern face.
Pay attention to the eyes and mouth if you want a happy, smiling or thoughtful expression on your Jack O Lantern face.

If you like the celebration spirit of Halloween but aren’t so keen on spooking, you might like a perky, smiling pumpkin design.

Draw simple circular eyes and focus on arcing eyebrows that look like flags waving in the wind. This will work to show a happy emotion. Make the nose a simple triangle and then emphasis the mouth. A wide, jovial upward angled mouth with an enormous hanging tongue for a bit of cheek.

A hanging centerpiece in the center of the tongue will give it some definition but carve this part first or it will become too weak.

Lips in Stitches Pumpkin

A really simple design but very effective once lit up. Do two circular pupils and then emphasis them with enormous arching triangular eyes. One downward, diagonal line above each will express a frown.

Scary skull head and flames pumpkin carving design is more than just spooky!
Scary skull head and flames pumpkin carving design is more than just spooky!

The nose can be a simple wide upside down triangle. For the mouth, create a stitch effect like those which was traditionally drawn on a Frankenstein cartoon by making a wide curvaceous line and then drawing vertical lines across it from one side to the side for a great grimacing growl.

Skull Head Pumpkin

Always one of my favorites, the skull is a straightforward and recognizable image so it will be easy to source a picture to trace.

Make the eyes on this one very deep and wide to let the like out. Two small side by side triangles are all that is needed for a nose. Keep the face long by distancing between the features. Cut out small, square teeth either side of a line for the mouth.

A defined square line running around the outside will be effective. You can take some tinfoil and cover a couple of teeth to give long john silver treatment.

Frankenstein Pumpkin

Monster themes are always a great pumpkin carving theme in keeping with the Halloween spirit.
Monster themes are always a great pumpkin carving theme in keeping with the Halloween spirit.

This is another easy one to adapt from a picture. Track down a Frankenstein cartoon.

The features you’ll want to include in your design are the hair, eyes, nose, mouth, facial stitches, ear, bottom corners of jaw and neck complete with bolts.

The traditional Jack O Lantern face makes a great Halloween pumpkin display.
The traditional Jack O Lantern face makes a great Halloween pumpkin display.

These are the distinguishing features that make any Frankenstein image recognizable.

Worm Brain Pumpkin

A fun design bound to show your home off as a viable trick or treat stop. Simple carve enormous round eyes and a large cavernous mouth.

Take a drill and drill small holes around the top of the head and on the front of the face between the eyes.

Insert some lolly snakes to appear as if they are squirming out of the holes. If you drill two holes near each other, you can insert both ends of the snake and make it look as if it is crawling tunnels inside. Delicious!

Tips to Keep your Pumpkin Looking Classy on Halloween

Cute Hello Kitty pumpkin design. I bet my six-year-old daughter will love this one!
Cute Hello Kitty pumpkin design. I bet my six-year-old daughter will love this one!

  • Pick a fresh pumpkin (always pick one with a stem) without bruises. When you go shopping for it, take along a photocopy of your design to test it out for size and impact.
  • If you haven’t done this before, just stick with a simple design and make it the best you can. It takes practice and you can move on to more difficult designs with time.
  • Rub vegetable oil or petroleum jelly onto freshly cut areas to delay aging.
  • Once carved, your pumpkin will only keep two-to-five days. Ideally, carve your pumpkin the day before you plan to use it and keep in the refrigerator. If a shriveled design needs refreshing, soak the pumpkin in water for two-to-eight hours, but DON’T over-soak or it may crack. Then dry your pumpkin off, as standing water will soften it.
  • For the less creative among us, there are many sites that offer Jack O’ Lantern patterns you can print out and use to transfer the design to your pumpkin. Here are a few you can check out:

Comments

8 comments
  1. Kat
    October 7, 2009

    Wow! That’s my hello kitty pumpkin!

    Leave a reply
  2. Dana
    October 27, 2009

    Great work on the hello kitty pumpkin…i’m in search of the stencil for my 5 year old daughter. Where did you get it?

    Thanks-
    Dana

    Leave a reply
  3. Fall Home Decorating Photo Gallery | Tips and Advice
    January 17, 2010

    […] you’re looking for ideas on fall colors in the home, designing an autumn wreath, how to carve a Halloween pumpkin, set your table for the holidays or create a fall floral display in your home, you’ll find […]

    Leave a reply
  4. Natalie
    October 11, 2010

    Wow these are awesome! I’ve been looking for ideas for scary and/or funny jack-o-laterns and couldn’t find them untill I saw these! Thanks for the tips and awesome pictures P:

    Leave a reply
  5. kasia
    October 30, 2010

    Cool! i Have been looking for hello kity!

    Leave a reply
  6. Dave
    September 27, 2011

    I love the Jagged Teeth stencil in this article. I’ve been searching around for stencils for a while now and have found a really cool selection at http://ultimate-pumpkin-stencils.com. They have almost 300 stencils. Some really cool Jack o’Lanterns as well.

    Leave a reply
  7. Fallon
    October 15, 2011

    I really like the Hello Kitty one. My question is the bow carved too? I cant tell if how its done.

    Leave a reply
  8. Jasonmaskcarver
    October 29, 2011

    Im gunna try the jason mask… it looks cool

    Leave a reply

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