How to Carve a Pumpkin

Learning how to carve a pumpkin is actually very easy! A Jack O'Lantern is a traditional part of most Halloween celebrations, and a fun project for everyone in the family. If you've never done it before, here's how to get started.

Choose Your Pumpkin
The size and shape of the pumpkin you choose will depend on the design you have in mind. But whether your pumpkin is tall and thin or short and round, there are a few things you should look for. Your pumpkin should have a flat bottom, so that it sits upright easily, and it should have a relatively smooth front for carving. You should also inspect your pumpkin carefully for soft spots or blemishes, which may indicate your pumpkin is not fresh. Don't buy a pumpkin with soft spots or signs of rot.

To make a Jack O'Lantern, you want a pumpkin that's at least the size of a basketball. Anything smaller than that is very difficult to carve, and you may not have enough room to put a light inside. Be careful with the really big pumpkins. They sometimes have very thick sides that make carving difficult, and you'll have a mountain of seeds and other goop inside to remove.

Gather Your Tools
Before you begin, you will need to have a medium-size serrated knife, a small paring knife, a large spoon and lots of newspaper. You should also have a washable or dry-erase marker, for drawing out your design before you cut. Spread the newspaper out on your work surface, as pumpkin carving is messy business!

If you have a garbage disposal, you might want to try cleaning your pumpkin next to the sink. If you do this, be sure to run the disposal and grind up the seeds after every few scoops. Otherwise the disposal is likely to jam and clog the drain.

Clean Your Pumpkin
Before you can start carving a face, you'll need to hollow out your pumpkin. Begin by using the serrated knife to cut a lid in the top. Cut a circle around the stem that's large enough for you to fit your hand into. For most average-sized pumpkins, the circle will be roughly 5 inches or so across. Hold the knife at a 45-degree angle away from the pumpkin as you cut, to create a ridge around the top of the pumpkin. If you cut straight down, the lid will fall into the pumpkin when it's cut.

After cutting the lid, scrape the stringy stuff and seeds off the inner walls of the pumpkin with your knife. Next, use your large spoon and your hands to begin scraping all the pulp and seeds out of the inside of the pumpkin. Be sure to scrape it out thoroughly, so that none of the stringy material remains. This will rot very quickly if it's left behind and create an unpleasant smell.

Designing Your Face
Once you've got a nice, clean and hollow pumpkin shell, you are ready to start on the face. Use your marker to plan your design. The simplest faces have triangle eyes and nose and a jagged mouth. This is easiest for beginners, because it only requires a few simple cuts. You can make the features any shape you wish, just keep in mind that simple shapes are easiest to cut.

Once you've drawn a face you like, it's time to start cutting. Using your paring knife, carefully begin cutting along the lines you've drawn. Take your time, and work carefully. Pumpkins can be hard to cut through, and you don't want to injure yourself. Work in small sections, and be aware that there can be thin spots or soft spots in the pumpkin's sides that will cause the knife to slip.

When your face is finished, you can place a small votive candle inside to make it glow. Put the lid back on top, and place your Jack O'Lantern where everyone can enjoy it.

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Learning how to make a jack-o-lantern couldn't be simpler. Carving a jack-o-lantern is a fun Halloween tradition for children and adults, as long as you find the right pumpkin and follow safety precautions.

Jack-o-lantern designs are certainly taking off thanks to some dedicated pumpkin carvers. With the right tools and a little patience, you can have your very own pumpkin that will make people stop and stare.

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