How to carve a pumpkin


Just in time for Halloween, here are some great ideas for pumpkin carving AND some tips for making your pumpkin last longer after it's carved, courtesy of Howdini guru of fun Bruce Littlefield.

How to carve a pumpkin

Tips for choosing a pumpkin for carving:

  • When selecting the perfect pumpkin for carving, look for a nice plump round shape with a rich, orange color. Make sure at least one side of the pumpkin is blemish-free, which will become the side that is carved. You can find pumpkins at a grocery store or pick your own from a pumpkin patch.

Prepare a workspace for pumpkin carving:
  • Cover your work surface with newspaper.
  • Gather all of your supplies (above).

Creating a pumpkin carving design:
  • Draw your design on a piece of paper, shading in the sections that will be cut away from the pumpkin. This will serve as a stencil for carving.
  • Attach the stencil to the pumpkin with thumbtacks.
  • Mark the outline of the stencil into the pumpkin with the tines of a fork. This allows you to pierce through the paper to transfer the pattern onto the pumpkin.
  • Once the pumpkin carving pattern has been marked with a fork, mark the pattern again with a pen. Marking the pattern with a pen makes it easier to follow the pattern when carving.

Carving the Jack O' Lantern lid:
  • Make sure to slice into the pumpkin on an angle. This ensures that the lid will not fall through once it is cut out.
  • The most simple shape for a lid is a square. It's much easier than carving a circle; you can cut four straight lines instead of struggling to create a round lid. No one will ever know the difference!
  • Make sure the hole is large enough for you to scoop out the "guts" (the seeds and membrane) of the pumpkin with your hands and a large spoon or ice cream scoop.

Scooping out the pumpkin:
  • Starting at the top, scrape the seeds and membrane on the sides of the pumpkin, so they fall to the bottom. Continue to scrape the inside of the pumpkin until all the "guts" are loose and can be taken out by hand.
  • Now for the ooey, gooey fun part! Reach into the pumpkin and remove the seeds and membrane until the interior of the pumpkin is smooth and clean. Make sure to carve the bottom (inside) of the pumpkin flat so that the votive candle has a flat surface to sit on.

Carving the design:
  • Use a knife with a thin, long blade to carve out the large pieces of your pattern.
  • For detailed carving, it is easier to use a smaller paring knife.
  • Take your time and be careful as you carve.

Lighting the Jack O' Lantern:
  • Place a votive candle in a glass votive candle holder. Using a glass votive candle holder is safer and will last longer.

Making your carved pumpkin last longer (optional):
  • A pumpkin can last for about a week once it is carved. To prolong its life a few extra days, apply a thin coat of petroleum jelly to the carved surfaces of the pumpkin, which creates a barrier and delays rotting.
  • Petroleum jelly is flammable so coat the pumpkin before you place the candle inside. Once the petroleum jelly has set, it is safe to place the candle inside.




p>LIZZ: Hi. I’m Lizz Winstead with The carving of the pumpkin, either you love it or you hate it, I happen to love it. You get a knife and you get your hands dirty, and you dig right in it. Other people are completely freaked out by it. But, my friend Bruce Littlefield is here to walk you through pumpkin carving so at least you will like it a little bit.

BRUCE: I can’t wait to see you reach your hands in these pumpkins, I tell you.

LIZZ: I know I’m telling you its awesome. 

BRUCE: Oh gosh, well I picked these pumpkins up at a local patch. I think that’s one of the fun things about Halloween is to go out to a farm patch and actually get your pumpkins. But, you can also of course get them at the grocery store. I look for a nice big plump round one, good orange color. You know when you see things like that you want to steer clear or find, make sure you have a spot on there that can accommodate the face. Ok, so let’s dive into one, what do you say? All right so you take your pumpkin and I like to figure out which side my face, which side the face is going to go on correct.

LIZZ: Okay

BRUCE: So, obviously, this looks more of a –

LIZZ: Michael Jackson face if you were going to do Michael Jackson I’d use that side.

BRUCE: I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t particularly use that side so maybe we’ll use that side. And then what I like to do is draw out my pattern on a piece of paper. This doesn’t look like much at this point.

LIZZ: No. It doesn’t, it looks like a raw shank test. 

BRUCE: It does, so yes your raw shank test, but if you look right there you see the outline of a cat.

LIZZ: Oh. Ok. Great, so you’re cutting this part out.

BRUCE: We’re going. We’re going to end up- 

LIZZ: Here’s the cat and here’s the crazy, got it.

BRUCE: You got it. So everything here we’re going to be cutting away on the pumpkin.


BRUCE: So then you put your stencil, your drawing, your sketch-

LIZZ: Right. 

BRUCE: Onto the pumpkin, thumb tack it, then take a fork, I like to have a fork and you go around the lines marking into the lines as you go around. So, I’ve already marked this one with my holes and you can see that right there. 

LIZZ: Yeah. Yeah. Awesome, yup.

BRUCE: Now the next thing is the cutting of the lid. Go in on an angle because the lid is going to have to not fall through.

LIZZ: Right. 

BRUCE: Ok. So oh, wow, it’s a very moist pumpkin.

LIZZ: Hmmm

BRUCE: Ok, so make your lines as such.


BRUCE: Just keep going here- 

LIZZ: You know its funny, they always told us to do it round which was so hard when you could do a square and who would know. 

BRUCE: Yeah. Who knows? All right, and…

LIZZ: I love this, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

BRUCE: All right you know the next thing.

LIZZ: I always go from the top you get it all the way down to the bottom. 

BRUCE: You’ve done this before!

LIZZ: I love it, ohh piles. I get a little obsessive. 

BRUCE: Ok, you’ve done good pig. Come on let’s look at what one would look if we weren’t the most enthusiastic-

LIZZ: When it looks like when Bruce does it, here is what it looks like when Bruce does it.

BRUCE: Well I’m not Martha but come on, that’s pretty darn good.

LIZZ: It’s perfect no it’s amazing.

BRUCE: It’s good. It’s good. It’s clean when you light it up inside; it’s going to have an even surface. Ok, you get the point. 

LIZZ: It’s gorgeous. It’s gorgeous.

BRUCE: Now its time to cut around into our pattern, so let’s do it. 

LIZZ: So you went ahead and drew a little outline as well on your dots. 

BRUCE: I did, just because so I can see it better. See right here, using the knife you can just sort of sculpt out how you want it. There we go. 

LIZZ: Right. 


LIZZ: Cool. 

BRUCE: All right. And again, again, I’m not rushing myself, tiny slices. And especially because I have sort of a large knife for this detail, and I’m making do with what I’ve got. But, I’m doing a good job here. Now you can see the body of the cat is forming, here’s the tail. This chunk is ready to come out. This is our next chunk, and the last chunk we have we’ll take out is the leg. And you’ll see the legs there and the legs there look pretty good, almost done. 

LIZZ: Ok. So let’s spin around and show everybody.

BRUCE: Ok. Let’s do it, come on.

LIZZ: Ok. Um, it’s gorgeous, come on now. 

BRUCE: Can you tell it’s a cat? 

LIZZ: How cute is that!

BRUCE: And I’m going to use a candle inside, a votive, and a votive inside a glass- 

LIZZ: Right. 

BRUCE: So this would be able to fit down in there just fine.

LIZZ: Awesome.

BRUCE: Let’s light her up. And you know I like to use the candles this way because first of all it reduces the risk of fire and they last longer-

LIZZ: Right.

BRUCE: Inside the votive holder they last a lot longer.

LIZZ: Now how cool does that look? Glowy, Glowy candle. It’s amazing. So talk to us about how long this pumpkin should stick around before the whole funk, rot start in?

BRUCE: Yeah, well pumpkins can really last about a week once its cut. But once you cut it it’s going to actually get a little wilted inside. Think of a piece of fruit left on the counter.

LIZZ: Yeah.

BRUCE: But one of the greatest beauty secrets of all time, Petroleum Jelly works great.

LIZZ: It’s probably good for the smile on the other pumpkin too.

BRUCE: Yes, it is. 

LIZZ: Right.

BRUCE: Oh, you’ve got it.

LIZZ: Those pageant contenders, they use the Vaseline-

BRUCE: Did you compete in a pageant?

LIZZ: Can’t you tell!

BRUCE: I can. 

LIZZ: I came all the way up the ranks to Miss whatever.

BRUCE: So anyway, take it, and you don’t wanna be doing this when there’s a candle in there. But, basically get that around in there.

LIZZ: This is all kinds of weird.

BRUCE: Right. I know. Yeah, I know it is. 

LIZZ: The Vaseline trick its probably great.

BRUCE: It, it, it really does work, because what it does is it seals it up a little bit. You wanna say goodbye? 

LIZZ: Not really.

BRUCE: Come on shake my hand. 

LIZZ: I’m not going to say goodbye that way, but I love your pumpkin. I’m not going to shake your lubed up hand, thank you darling. I’m Lizz Winstead for

meet theexpert
  • Bruce Littlefield

    Bruce Littlefield Design and Lifestyle Guru Bruce Littlefield is a New York-based designer, writer, and restaurateur. Hailed as a "design and lifestyle guru" by Publisher's Weekly, he is the author of the recently published Merry Christmas, America!: Megawatt Displays Across the U.S.A. (HarperCollins 2007), Garage Sale America and Airstream Living (HarperCollins 2007), and co-writer of the best-selling Use What You've Got and Other Business Lessons I learned from My Mom (Penguin Group) with real-estate magnate Barbara Corcoran. The Today more about this expert »