Have you always wanted to learn how to carve a pumpkin? Or perhaps you’re looking for a nice, messy activity that you can do with the kids? In this beginner’s guide, we cover everything you need to know about how to carve a pumpkin, what equipment you will need as well as templates for inspiration and show you how to carve a pumpkin step-by-step. And if you want to make sure you’ve got all the right equipment without needing to buy everything individually, check out our fantastic selection of pumpkin carving kits, ideal for pumpkin carving for beginners.
You can pick up a pumpkin from your local supermarket or farm shop relatively cheaply (around £2 or £3), and the only limit to what you can carve is your imagination. In this guide, we show you how to make a traditional jack-o-lantern face, which is ideal for beginners learning how to carve a pumpkin and looks great, too.
We’ve collected some of the best pumpkin carving ideas, but first, you need to know how to scoop out a pumpkin. Check out our easy pumpkin carving ideas and learn how to carve a pumpkin with our step-by-step photo tutorial below.
How do you carve a pumpkin? Watch our video tutorial!
How to carve a pumpkin step-by-step
You Will Need
- Food knife, small with a serrated edge
- Spoon, to scoop out the insides
- Template, dry wipe pen or sharpie to draw your own design
- Container, to put the seeds in
So, how do you carve a pumpkin? First, choose your pumpkin! Try to select a fresh pumpkin and one that is free from blemishes so that it lasts as long as possible. An older pumpkin won’t last as long – but would be ideal if you’re carving it the day or two before Halloween. If you’re not sure what size to go for, a football-sized pumpkin is a good place to start. To make sure you’re picking the best pumpkin, select one with an even colour all over and tap it with your knuckles. It should sound hollow. The outside of the pumpkin should feel ‘firm’ – if it feels soft then it won’t last as long. Make sure that your pumpkin has a sturdy stem and that it sits up properly so that it doesn’t roll over while you carve it. Once you’ve chosen your pumpkin, be sure to carry it by cradling it, rather than by the stem.
Carving pumpkins are different from a cooking pumpkin, so make sure you get the right one. A carving pumpkin is larger and relatively hollow (i.e they have less ‘guts’) with a more watery, stringy flesh. Cooking pumpkins are much smaller but are denser with thicker walls, which makes it difficult to carve. Cooking pumpkins also tend to be darker in colour.
Prep your pumpkin by washing it and wiping it down to remove any dust that may have accumulated. Download and print one of the templates onto an A4 sheet of paper. The template we’re using is from Schuster’s Farm. Hold the paper up to the pumpkin and use a sharp object (like a pin, needle or pokey tool) and go over the design to transfer the image to the pumpkin below. Alternatively, grab a pen (a dry wipe pen or sharpie is ideal) and sketch out a design onto the pumpkin. Once you’re happy with your design, you’re ready to start carving!
Now get ready to make some mess! Pumpkin carving is a messy job and it’s a good idea to have something nearby to put the pumpkin guts in. Once you’ve set up your workspace (or have migrated outdoors), draw a circular lid around the pumpkin stem. Depending on the size of your pumpkin it should be around 12-15cm in diameter. Remember it needs to be big enough for you to be able to get your hand in to rummage around. Before you cut, add a small line over the edge of the lid at the back of your pumpkin – this will enable you to line up and replace your lid in exactly the right place. Using a small knife with a serrated blade, start cutting into the pumpkin following the line of the lid. Cut at a 45º inward angle, so that the lid does not fall into the pumpkin when it is empty.
How to scoop out a pumpkin? Well, it’s quite easy, just very messy! Put the lid aside and start removing the pumpkin seeds. They are all attached to each other in big stringy lumps, so dive in and pull them out. Set them aside in a container – we’ll keep them for later!
Using a spoon, scrape out all the remaining stringy guts of the pumpkin. There’s not much we can do with them, so toss them in the compost. Scrape close to the pumpkin walls and get it as clean as possible before moving on to the next step.
Now that your pumpkin is gutted, it probably resembles a nice slimy mess. So go ahead and give it a rinse, then pat it dry. Slime and knives are not a good mix!
Now, using the same knife as before, follow the pin lines and cut into your pumpkin. Make straight cuts all the way through and put the pieces aside. These extra pieces are useful for making accessories to your pumpkin (like a pipe or a tongue) or as food for your garden wildlife (squirrels especially!).
If you’re left with unwanted jagged edges, you might like to neaten up the edges at this point with a craft knife.
Now for the best part! Find a place to put your pumpkin and slip a tealight candle inside. Use a long match, wax lighting taper or long candle lighter to light the candle, then replace the lid. If you’ve carved a large mouth, you might find it easier to light the candle through the mouth. Now sit back and enjoy the spooky glow from all your hard work!
Remember those pumpkin seeds you put aside? With a little added seasoning they make a perfect autumn snack, and as it turns out, pumpkin seeds are actually quite good for you. Check out this easy 10-minute roasted pumpkin seeds recipe from BBC Good Food.
Pumpkin carving kits: what do you need to carve a pumpkin?
If you would like to take the hassle out of finding all the equipment needed to carve your own pumpkin, take a look at these handy ready-made kits that you can pick up right now that contains all the tools you need to carve a pumpkin. A good kit should contain a sturdy range of tools with different shaped blades, including a pokey tool, a thin saw blade and a scoop.
1. Eddington four-piece pumpkin carving kit
Buy it now: Lakeland (£9.99)
2. Place & Time pumpkin carving kit
Buy it now: Joann ($11.99)
3. Moocii pumpkin carving kit
Buy it now: Amazon (£20.99)
4. Budget pumpkin carving kit
Buy it now: Create and Craft (£4.89)
5. Premium stainless steel pumpkin carving kit
Buy it now: Nine Tribe (£44)
Easy pumpkin carving ideas and templates
Now that you know how to carve your pumpkin, you’re probably wondering what design to go for. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! Check out the best pumpkin carving ideas and templates for beginners.
1. Schuster’s Farm – free templates
Schuster’s Farm has a small, but carefully curated selection of easy pumpkin carving ideas. The quirky designs are ideal if you’re looking for something traditional, but with a little something extra. We love these designs so much (check out their adorable vampire bat template) – the face in the tutorial above is from Schuster’s Farm! And, if you’re in the area (Deerfield, WI, USA), you can lose yourself among their 14 acres and over 3 dozen different varieties of pumpkins and squash. Restrictions are a little tighter this year, but they’re still open for business with social distancing measures in place. If you have little ones, check out their virtual pumpkin field trip – learn everything you need to know about pumpkins, with a virtual tour, worksheets, colouring sheets and even maths problems!
2. Create & Craft – free templates
Our friends over at Create & Craft have put together a great selection of free pumpkin template downloads for beginners, including the classic scary face, creepy kitty and haunted house. If you want something a bit different, check out their magical unicorn template!
3. Partyrama – free templates
For a spooky history of the Jack O’ Lantern and traditional Halloween pumpkin carving templates, Partyrama is a great place to start.
4. Celebrating Halloween – free templates
There is a lot to choose from here, and if you’re looking for non-traditional, Celebrating Halloween has a great selection of flower pumpkin carving patterns, as well as easy carved pumpkin topiary and pirates. We love the howling wolf and Tinkerbell pumpkin templates!
5. BBC Good Food’s easy pumpkin carving – free templates
BBC Good Food’s pumpkin carving templates are as easy as one, two, BOO! There are five to choose from, including a super easy spooky bat, a witch on her broomstick, haunted house, Dalek and the classic spooky face.
6. Spooktober’s pumpkin face collection
Buy it now: Etsy (£2.92)
This PDF download from Spooktober contains 20 printable easy Jack O Lantern designs. Aimed at the beginner, this is also a good choice if you want to get children involved as the designs are not too complicated but still pack a punch.
7. Pumpkin Patch, by Diana McMillan (book)
Buy it now: Etsy (£6.50)
Pumpkin Patch by Diana McMillan is a thorough guide that also covers artificial pumpkin carving! Diana shares tips and tricks, and there are lots of templates to get you inspired. And, if carving isn’t your thing, there are also plenty of ideas to get you started with painting pumpkins.
8. Pumpkin Pile – free templates
Pumpkin Pile have lots of free templates to choose from, and they have given each face a difficulty of 1-5 (5 being most difficult), so you can work your way up to more intricate patterns as you get more confident with your new-found skill.
9. Whaline 18 pack of plastic stencils
Buy it now: Amazon (£9.99)
Plastic stencils are a great choice if you want to make them last year after year. Whaline have put together a pack of 18 plastic stencils and because they are reusable, they are also multifunctional and can be used to create wall decor, too.
10. Easy Pumpkin Carving, by Colleen Dorsey (book)
Buy it now: Amazon (£3.99)
Easy Pumpkin Carving by Colleen Dorsey gives a great overview of pumpkin carving, as well as patterns and templates!
11. Martha Stewart Galaxy Pumpkin – free template
If you’re looking for something a little different, then how about this stunning constellation pumpkin from Martha Stewart? You will need to master the basics first, but this is a great one to work towards and will look stunning on your front porch and will certainly impress passers-by.
12. Martha Stewart pumpkin owl – inspiration
Martha Stewart has created this super easy design for a pumpkin owl that just about anyone can master. Just grab two pumpkins (one large for the body, and one smaller for the head) and use toothpicks to join the two together.
13. Good to Know – free templates
If you’re feeling overwhelmed for choice, Good To Know has a nice selection of easy, classic pumpkin carving templates.
14. The Pumpkin Lady – free templates
Traditional Jack O’ Lanterns are where most people start when carving their first pumpkin, and The Pumpkin Lady has a massive selection aimed specifically at beginners. And the best part – they all have their own name! Will you carve a Bill, Earl, Mr Bumble, or Shelby?
15. The Pumpkin Lady – free template
16. WOO! Kid’s Activities – free templates
Aimed specifically at kids, WOO! Kid’s Activities have hundreds of pumpkin face templates to choose from, and have made several of their designs free! This is a great way to ‘try before you buy’, and if you like their freebies, why not treat yourself to the 100+ printable templates bundle.
17. Reader’s Digest – free templates
Ahh good ol’ Readers Digest. They have a great collection of free pumpkin carving templates including beautiful script pumpkins, emoticon pumpkins and even a super simple Vincent Van Gogh-inspired Starry Night pumpkin. And they’re great for beginners, too!
18. Free Stencil Gallery – free templates
Because pumpkin carving templates are essentially just stencils, dedicated stencil websites are a great resource for pumpkin carving inspiration. Free Stencil Gallery has an extensive selection of Jack O’ Lantern templates, but if you’re after something of a more intermediate level, scroll through their free Halloween stencil gallery!
19. Skull a Day – Inspiration
If you’re looking for a pumpkin design that’s a bit different, experiment with different size pumpkins. We love this skull inside a Jack O’ Lantern by Skull a Day!
20. Place of my Taste – Inspiration
If you’re looking for last-minute pumpkin carving inspiration, why not consider this easy design from Place of my Taste. On their blog, there’s also inspiration for painted pumpkins, decoupage pumpkins and even DIY brown paper pumpkins!
21. The Crafted Life – Inspiration
This super-easy pumpkin carving idea would look great inside or outside the house, and only takes about an hour to make. Check out The Crafted Life to see how to make this colourful pumpkin vase.
22. Whipperberry – Inspiration
How about this contemporary pop art twist on the classic carved pumpkin? Visit Whippenberry for more easy black and white easy pumpkin carving ideas.
23. One Little Project – Inspiration
Do you have a power drill? If you are really pushed for time, then pumpkin carving using a drill is a really easy way to make beautiful pumpkins. Have a look at One Little Project, where Debbie takes you through the steps in her easy drilled pumpkin tutorial.
24. Spookmaster – Free templates
Spookmaster has hundreds of free pumpkin carving patterns for all skill levels, including traditional Halloween favourites, sports teams, the animal kingdom and even a whole section for odds and ends. We love this American Flag pumpkin carving pattern!
25. Mini Fairy Garden – Inspiration
Just – WOW! Sophie makes miniature outdoor garden worlds and her clever idea uses the inside of a pumpkin as a fairy house. Battery-powered fairy lights is a nice twist on the classic candle, and even though this is a fantastic idea in its own right it’s an excellent one to keep in the back of your mind in case carving goes wrong. We’re in love.
26. Mummy pumpkin – Inspiration
27. Design bolts – Free templates
Design bolts have over 400 free pumpkin carving templates on their website, sorted into categories like ‘scary’, ‘floral’, ‘simple’, ‘cute’, ‘easy’, ‘advanced’ and many more. We think the student loans template is particularly scary!
Main image and steps photography by Holly Spanner
Intro image during the day by Bekir Dönmez
Intro image during the night by David Menidrey