Pumpkin Carving for Fun and Happiness This Fall

You'll need lots of elbow grease and a tolerance for a big mess, but the joy will last for ... always

Nothing says “it’s fall” for kids like pumpkin carving — and this fun activity is a great one for families everywhere.

For those who are new to the task or who need a handy refresher, here are the essentials for kids and parents. By following these steps that you probably had down pat when you were a kid, you can get going with any traditional pumpkin-carving pattern. You’ll also need a little elbow grease and a tolerance for mess to use this technique — but it’s totally worth it.

Once you’ve chosen the pumpkin you want to work with (see the guide down below), you want to get all your prep work done.

1.) Clean the pumpkin. Prep the pumpkin first by rinsing it in cold water and using a scrub brush to remove dirt. If you want, you can spray the entire pumpkin with a mild bleach and water solution to kill any mold and bacteria.

2.) Cut out the lid. Use a sturdy knife to slowly and carefully carve out and remove the lid of the pumpkin, going in at an angle rather than straight down in. Alternatively, you can cut a hole in the bottom of the pumpkin, which will mean you can sit your pumpkin on top of a light rather than placing a light inside the pumpkin.

3.) Clean out the guts. Use a scoop to completely empty the inside of the pumpkin of flesh and seeds. Keep scraping away at the inner walls of the pumpkin until you only have about a one-inch thick pumpkin wall that is nice and smooth.

4.) Attach the pattern. Transfer the pattern using your desired method. Check out the book “Easy Pumpkin Carving” for tons of patterns to choose from and select.

Now it’s time for some carving tips. Actually carving the pumpkin is simple enough. Here are some tips to make carving easy and effective:

  • Saw steadily with a continuous up and down motion, and don’t press too hard or try to go too fast.
  • When you’re finished cutting out a standalone piece (like an eye), pop it out of the pumpkin wall with your finger, not your carving tool.
  • To cut clean, sharp corners, remove and reinsert the carving tool.
  • Carve starting from the inside of the design and working your way outward.
  • Resist the urge to put your free hand inside the pumpkin while carving. Only do so if you can clearly see where all of your hand is.
  • If you accidentally break off a part of your carving as you work, such as a protruding tooth, stick it back on with a toothpick!

To preserve your carved pumpkin, keep it cool and out of the direct sunlight (you can even put it in the fridge).

You can also coat the interior and all cut edges with petroleum jelly to help lock in the pumpkin’s natural moisture, or purchase special preservative sprays for pumpkins.

What if you’re not sure what pumpkin to work with, though, to start? There are many kinds of pumpkins to choose from when it comes to carving and embellishing. What you choose will depend on what kind of project you want to make. Here are just some of the main options.

Standard pumpkins. Your typical pumpkin is big, orange, and sturdy. This is a go-to pumpkin for any project.

Common varieties include Cinderella and Jack O’ Lantern (yes, that’s a real type of pumpkin).

Mini pumpkins. Tiny pumpkins have variety names like Jack-be-littles, Munchkins, and Baby Boos, and they are just as cute as their names. These little pumpkins aren’t as easy to carve, but they’re perfect as fall foliage décor accents, and they can be painted or embellished with very little material or effort.

White pumpkins may be a welcome departure from the norm.

White and gray pumpkins. Depending on what you do with a white pumpkin, it can be creepy — like a ghost! — or elegant.

Whatever you choose to do with it, white pumpkins are definitely a welcome departure from the norm. The Lumina variety in particular is white on the outside and bright orange on the inside, giving a very cool effect when carved.

Other colored pumpkins. Pumpkins come in many other colors and patterns, like blues, greens, stripes—you name it, it probably comes on a pumpkin. Each variety is slightly different, so do a little research before attempting to carve a pretty pumpkin you’re not familiar with.

Colleen Dorsey specializes in the craft and hobby industry, and is an editor at Design Originals and Fox Chapel Publishing in Pennsylvania. She graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in creative writing. Her latest book, “Easy Pumpkin Carving,” was just published.