Jack-o’-lantern carving tips for fun fall days

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Pumpkin Carving Tips for Fun Fall Days

Pumpkin Carving Tips for Fun Fall Days

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Jack-o’-lantern carving tips for fun fall days

mrjo/Shutterstock

A staple activity of the spooky season is pumpkin carving. Armed with a piping-hot cup of pumpkin coffee or a latte, it’s a great way to get into the spirit with family and friends. But there are some tricks you’ll need to know to get your carving just right. Here’s how to make the perfect jack-o’-lantern.

Think of a creative design

Think of a creative design

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Pumpkins need personality. Channel inspiration from your favorite TV shows, movies, books or music if you’re looking to deviate from the traditional ghoulish grins. Remember to craft a design that’s both ambitious and doable at your carving skill level.

Pick the perfect pumpkin for you

Pick the perfect pumpkin for you

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Before you carve, you will need to pick your pumpkin. Shop your local grocery store or pumpkin patch for a squash that fits your vision. For example, if you want to carve a ghost, you’ll need a more oval pumpkin. But don’t overlook funny-shaped pumpkins or a wart here or there, did someone say witch jack-o’-lantern?

Clean your pumpkin

Clean your pumpkin

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Just as you always wash pre-washed produce, rinse your pumpkin in soapy water prior to carving.

Don’t carve too early

Don’t carve too early

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Pumpkins typically start to decay two to three weeks after being carved. If you want yours to last until Halloween, wait until Oct. 18 at the earliest to carve.

Carve in a well-lit place

Carve in a well-lit place

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Keep yourself and others safe by carving in a well-lit place. While a spooky nighttime carving party may sound like fun, a well-lit space will not only ensure safety while using sharp tools, but also getting that design just right.

Lay down newspaper or a tarp

Lay down newspaper or a tarp

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No one said pumpkin carving was a clean activity. Pumpkin guts and chunks of the outside will be all over as you work your way through your ghost or ghoul, so put a protective layer down before you start. This could mean covering the floor or table in newspaper, using ripped up garbage bags, a tarp or whatever you can simply roll up when you’re done to clear out the mess. Consider carving outdoors and have rags or paper towels on hand.

Make sure you have the right tools

Make sure you have the right tools

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To ensure all your jack-o’-lantern bases are covered, invest in a kit. These usually include one or more small and easy-to-use saws, a scooper for gutting and other helpful tools. If you’d rather use what you have in the kitchen, opt for a straight-edged blade or serrated knife when carving.

Etch out an imperfect circle at the top

Etch out an imperfect circle at the top

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Ditch your inner perfectionist and give up any hope of carving a perfect circle around the top of your pumpkin. Instead, carve at an angle and leave a notch in your circle so you know how to put the two pieces back together perfectly.

Gut the pumpkin with an ice cream scoop or large spoon

Gut the pumpkin with an ice cream scoop or large spoon

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Ice cream scoopers are for more than yummy frozen treats. Use yours to scoop out any pumpkin guts from your soon-to-be jack-o’-lantern. Otherwise, grab the nearest giant spoon or use your hands to empty out all the gooey and stringy pumpkin guts.

Save and rinse the seeds

Save and rinse the seeds

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As you thoroughly clean out the inside of the pumpkin, save and rinse the seeds. These sneaky thyroid-healthy snacks could use a good roasting and pinch of salt, but more on that later.

Thin the pumpkin shell

Thin the pumpkin shell

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After scraping the walls of the pumpkin with a large spoon, thin the shell by shaving it down from the inside using a scraping tool. This allows for easy carving and brightens the appearance of any fancy etching and shaving.

Skip carving and paint with little ones instead

Skip carving and paint with little ones instead

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Parents of children 4 and under may choose to abandon ship here. Avoid any unfortunate pre-Halloween ouchies and paint pumpkins with toddlers instead of carving them. 

Draw or trace your pattern with dry-erase markers

Draw or trace your pattern with dry-erase markers

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You have a few options when it comes to how you would like to transfer your imagined pumpkin design onto its bright orange canvas. One: freehand it with a dry-erase marker. Two: trace with a stencil. Or three: create your own connect-the-dots pattern using a taped-down printed photo which you then poke or saw over to transfer the pattern onto the pumpkin.  

Start carving

Start carving

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The time has finally come. To begin carving, move your miniature saw, blade or knife along the lines you’ve traced, pausing whenever a change of direction is required. After carving the outlined pieces on your pumpkin, pop each piece out with a slight push against the pumpkin’s inner wall. It’s easy to lose a jack-o’-lantern tooth here or an eyebrow there if you’re going too fast, so patience is key. 

You can etch your pumpkin, too

You can etch your pumpkin, too

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Unlike traditional carving, pumpkin etching involves creating shallow scrapes in the pumpkin’s top layer of skin, not puncturing it entirely. Look for a DIY carving kit that includes engraving and scraping tools. The more you scrape away from the pumpkin skin and closer you get to the inner wall, the brighter the light will shine through. If without a DIY kit, reach for your nearest crafty linoleum cutter.

Create polka dots with power tools

Create polka dots with power tools

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Power tools can be used for more than DIY home maintenance. Create polka dots or other circular designs on your pumpkin by drilling through with a power drill. Different drill bit sizes will result in varying dot sizes when pressed against the pumpkin’s outer skin. Alternate sizes or create zigs zags all across the pumpkin’s surface. For safety reasons, only the adults should work the power tools.

Mix materials and carving methods

Mix materials and carving methods

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Why pick one decorating method when you can do it all? Carve, engrave, power drill and paint. Mix and match the methods to fit the look you envisioned.

Coat in petroleum jelly

Coat in petroleum jelly

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Petroleum jelly protects your skin during harsh winters … and your pumpkin’s during brisk falls. Rub the interior of your pumpkin cuts with petroleum jelly to help lengthen your jack-o’-lantern’s lifetime.

Replace a traditional candle with an LED light

Replace a traditional candle with an LED light

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Swap out hazardous flame-lit candles with a repurposed mason jar filled with a string of lights or an LED candle for a safer way to light up your creepy creation.

Keep Jack-o’-lanterns outdoors

Keep Jack-o’-lanterns outdoors

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Cool air helps to preserve the life of a carved pumpkin. So leave yours out in the open near all the stunning fall foliage.

Roast the pumpkins seeds

Roast the pumpkins seeds

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Congratulations, the hard work is done and your spooky pumpkin face is smiling back at you. It’s time to roast those saved and rinsed pumpkin seeds and take in the sight of your work of art. For more spooky-themed treats, use your favorite candies to make these impressive Halloween desserts

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