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How to Carve a Pumpkin

The first jack-o'-lanterns were carved centuries ago to ward off evil spirits. Now we use them to lure little ghosts and goblins to our home—but the technique remains the same.


  • Step 1: Choose pumpkin Choose a pumpkin that's large and smooth with a stem of at least 2". If you plan to put a candle inside, choose a gourd that's at least 9" tall.
  • TIP: Pumpkins with smaller stems rot quickly.
  • Step 2: Draw circle or hexagon Draw a circle or hexagon on the top of the pumpkin an inch or two below the stem. Don't worry if it's not perfect, but make sure it's a little bigger than your fist.
  • Step 3: Carve through pattern Carve through the pattern with a sharp knife—which requires less force, and is therefore safer. Angle your cut so the top of your circle is wider than the bottom, which will ensure that the top fits snugly in place.
  • Step 4: Remove top & clean out Remove the top and clean out the pumpkin's seeds and stringy membranes with the scooper. Continue scraping the inside until the walls are about half an inch thick—otherwise it will be hard to carve.
  • TIP: For a delicious—and healthy—treat, wash and sprinkle the seeds with salt, and then toast them in the oven on a baking sheet.
  • Step 5: Draw face Draw the eyes, nose, and mouth—or any other pattern you want, like perhaps Van Gogh's famous painting "The Starry Night."
  • TIP: If you're not good at drawing, find a carving template online or at a store. Fasten it to the pumpkin and use a thumbtack to poke holes along the lines.
  • Step 6: Cut through pattern Use your knife to cut through the pattern you've just drawn. Remember that cuts that connect to each other will remove the entire piece in between, so cut around anything you want to stay intact, like teeth or a wart on the nose.
  • Step 7: Make cuts & scrapes Make disconnected cuts and scrapes to allow the light from inside the pumpkin to shine through without removing whole pieces, a good technique for drawing outlines or scenes, or for creating more definition in a face—like glowing pupils.
  • TIP: To keep the edges from browning before the big night, dab on a little petroleum jelly to lock in moisture.
  • Step 8: Place candle Place a small candle and light it when you're ready to show off your work. If there's a large opening level with the candle, like a mouth, light the flame through it so you don't burn your hand.
  • TIP: If your flame is weak or keeps going out, it's not getting enough oxygen—cut a small opening in the top of the pumpkin, hidden from sight behind the stem.
  • Step 9: Use glow stick or battery-powered light If you're not keen on having a real flame, use a glow stick or battery-powered light.
  • FACT: Because pumpkins weren't common in Europe, early jack-o'-lanterns were made out of turnips!

You Will Need

  • A pumpkin
  • A sharp knife
  • A crayon or marker
  • A large spoon or ice cream scooper
  • And a small candle
  • glow stick
  • or battery-operated light
  • Salt
  • Baking sheet
  • A carving template
  • A thumbtack
  • And petroleum jelly

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