Tired of the same old pumpkin like last year and want something a little special? Maybe you have a group together and want to spend a nice autumn afternoon together having a pumpkin carving party? Are you just looking for a quick how-to and a step-by-step guide to simplify the whole thing? Well, you’re in luck because here are ten steps to carving a professional level pumpkin in your home.

Step 1. Pick Your Pumpkin Precisely

Take time to choose the right pumpkin. Here are five things to watch out for:

  1. Is the pumpkin bruised or too soft? It could be rotting inside – be careful.
  2. Does the pumpkin swish around when you shake it? If it does, it is rotten – leave that one be!
  3. Check the stem but don’t lift by it! If it has a sturdy stem, chances are the pumpkin is healthy. Don’t lift it by the stem because then you will damage your pumpkin, and you don’t want that.
  4. Check the base of the pumpkin – the underneath should be firm as well or something could be growing inside or rotting your pumpkin. It should look orange and the flesh should be firm.

Step 2. Pick Your Pattern

There are different ways to carve a pumpkin, and each is great but changes what tools you need. 

One is to carve it by the front – the more traditional face. A drywall saw is a great buy for this – they don’t cost much (about $6). If not, try a filet knife but be careful to not cut yourself when pushing into the hard skin! Your scary Halloween shouldn’t involve your fingers! 

A second is a more precise patternwork, carving from a tighter stencil. If you choose this, you’ll want a knife or saw that can get through the hard skin and still help you do the thinner designs you want. 

A third method is to carve the back of the pumpkin so after you put a candle inside the carved image projects onto the wall behind the pumpkin. This is a rarity for most neighborhoods and might be just the piece of flair you need – but remember that if you do this one, the image you carve will be very small, indeed – 4″ x 4″ typically – so that it projects the light behind it. In this case, you’d need a carving saw similar to the second case, the more intricate pattern.

Step 3. Decapitate

Unless you want the stem to be a nose in your pumpkin, then you’ll need to cut off the top. Make sure that as you cut, you take your time and angle the blade so there’s a conic shape made. Remember: the idea is that if you want to put the cap back on, it won’t fall through.

Step 4. Scrape It!

This is the part everyone remembers, for good reason – it typically takes a while! One hot tip is to try an ice cream scoop. It saves time and makes the whole process easier. Also, save the seeds for roasting – a sprinkle of paprika, garlic, and yum!!

Step 5. Bleach It!

If you want to keep the insides from rotting, a hot tip is to put in a kitchen cleaner spray with bleach. Yes! A longer pumpkin shelf life is possible!

Step 6. Pattern Time

Now, to transfer the pattern you’ve chosen to your pumpkin – or in this case, to draw out what you’d like before you carve it in. To do this, tape the pattern over the pumpkin, then carefully poke holes into the pattern using a thumbtack, and remember – the denser the holes, the less people will be able to guess how you made such a precise pattern on your pumpkin.  If it’s hard to see the holes afterwards, you can make them stand out by spreading flour, corn starch, or baking soda – not baking powder since that will foam up when it touches the pumpkin). Other sneaky tools include using a dry erase board marker to mark over the areas that are getting carved out.

Step 7. Get The Saw – Take Your Time!

You invested this much time so far – and you want a great pumpkin – so the trick here is not to saw too fast. Really use it as a saw, not a knife. An intricate pattern could take up to four hours, so take breaks. This is a fall afternoon activity – why not take a t.o. for some cider, kick back with a party game or just simply step away and come back refreshed? You want a good pumpkin, and you deserve one – take your time. Don’t hack, relax. How do I saw carefully? Good question! Best bet is to hold the saw like you would a pencil, and push in and out in between the holes you carved. Don’t force it – it’s not a knife, so don’t slice. Just saw. Think Paul Bunyan thoughts.

**Special note**

Remember: the “Saw” movie franchise has quite enough sequels – it doesn’t need you, too. Take your time here and respect your tools so you are safe. 

Step 8. Soak It

To preserve the pumpkin, soak it in cold water, with the carved design face down. The longer you soak it, the better preserved it will be. Overnight is ideal, and remember to dry it off after you’re done so it doesn’t get moldy.

Step 9. Light It

You can light the pumpkin with either a candle – traditional method – and making sure there’s ventilation through the top by keeping the top off entirely (otherwise the top will singe). You also can try putting in an electric bulb – the pros suggest a 40 watt, uncolored bulb on an electric cord. If you keep it low or off to the side, it will illuminates the inside back wall in a very cute way. If you choose this method, make sure that the back of the pumpkin is smoothly scraped so that it takes a cute photo.

Step 10. Style It!

If you want different effects or props – now’s the time! If you lit your pumpkin with a bulb, you can put wax paper behind the front face of the pumpkin to create a blurry effect. Or you can try colored tissue paper to change the look and feel – again, if you’re not using a candle! Only for bulb’ed lit pumpkins!Now’s also a good time to take a pic! And remember: don’t use a flash – this will make sure that your pumpkin glow is captured precisely on film. 

Congratulations! Great job, you pumpkin head!