How to carve a pumpkin – step by step guide for beginners
Whether you're getting ready for Trick or Treaters or hosting a Halloween party, learning how to carve a pumpkin is the ultimate spooky craft. Read on for our simple guide to how to make a Jack O' Lantern.
Turn everyday pumpkins into doorstep-ready masterpieces with our ultimate guide to pumpkin carving for beginners. 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 article, we cover everything you need to know about how to carve a pumpkin step by step, what equipment you will need, plenty of templates for inspiration, and show you how to carve a Jack O’ Lantern.
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 to get you started. You can pick up a pumpkin from your local supermarket or farm shop relatively cheaply (around £2 or £3). 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.
Your guide to pumpkin carving
This article includes:
- What is the best way to carve a pumpkin? Video
- How to carve a pumpkin step by step
- What do you need to carve a pumpkin?
- Pumpkin carving + Jack O’ Lantern face templates
- Pumpkin carving ideas & inspiration
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 cooking pumpkins, 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 them difficult to carve. Cooking pumpkins also tend to be darker in colour.
Looking to decorate your house for the spookiest day of the year? If you’re not quite confident cutting into your pumpkin, you might also like our round up of the best pumpkin painting ideas. We’ve also collected some of our favourite DIY Halloween crafts that won’t break the bank, or for a home-sewn twist on handmade Halloween projects, we love these DIY fabric pumpkins!
What is the best way to carve a pumpkin?
Watch our video guide to learn the best, beginner-friendly pumpkin-carving method.
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
How do you prepare a pumpkin for carving?
Prepare your pumpkin by washing it and wiping it down to remove any dust that may have accumulated.
Download and print one your template onto an A4 sheet of paper. The template we’re using is from Schuster’s Farm. Tape the paper template onto your pumpkin so that it doesn’t move around.
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!
How to make a Jack O' Lantern – carving the pumpkin
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. Draw a circular lid around the pumpkin stem. Depending on the size of your pumpkin, your lid 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.
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.
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. Alternatively, use a battery-operated tealight.
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!
How to carve a pumpkin without cutting through
As before, you’ll want to first hollow out your pumpkin first, so that there is space to put a light inside.
Pumpkins, depending on the size, have a light-coloured pulp (or “meat”) that is approximately 1-2″ (2.5 – 5cm) thick. Once you’re through the rind (the bright orange skin on the outside) the pumpkin meat is soft to cut through. The inside of the pumpkin meat is the part that is sprinkled with seeds – so make sure you save these to roast later!
If you want to achieve a more detailed look to your carved pumpkin, you might want to consider carving your pumpkin without cutting all the way through the pulp.
To carve a pumpkin without cutting through, all you need to do is “scrape” away the bright orange rind, revealing the lighter meat underneath. If you’re familiar with lino cutting, then it’s a similar technique to that. Light travels easily through the pumpkin meat, so you don’t need to scrape away much.
The more you scrape, (i.e. the deeper you cut), the brighter your design will appear when there is a light inside your pumpkin. So, for “shaded” areas, only gently scrape away the rind – leaving the meat fairly thick. For the highlights – scrape away a few centimetres worth of meat. It’s soft so it’s easy to scrape away.
It’s helpful to draw out your design first, but as we’re exposing the pumpkin meat in this technique, keep in mind that your design will not last as long as the traditional method of carving pumpkins. You can prolong your design (keep it from going mouldy for as long as possible) by dabbing away the moisture from the cut parts (and the inside) with a kitchen towel.
Remember those pumpkin seeds you put aside? With a little added seasoning they make a perfect autumn snack. Check out this easy 10-minute roasted pumpkin seeds recipe from BBC Good Food.
What do you need to carve a pumpkin?
All you need is a small, sharp knife with a sharp, serrated edge to cut out the pumpkin’s face, along with a large spoon to scoop out the middle of the pumpkin. You can also get some helpful kits and templates – read on to stock up!
Pumpkin carving kits
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. ANECO Pumpkin Carving Kit
- Buy it now: Amazon (£11.99)
This fully-stocked kit will save you from the pain of trying to carve a pumpkin with a blunt (or over-sized) kitchen knife). It comes with a hand-held mini saw, a poker tool, scraper, etching tool and 6 pumpkin carving template stickers in various Jack O’ Lantern face styles.
2. Moocii pumpkin carving kit
- Buy it now: Amazon (£17.99)
When it comes to carving the best pumpkins, having a few options for small, sharp tools to hand makes all the difference. So we love this 10 piece set of carving tools, including a scoop, circle, carving knives, saw, pumpkin scraper and etching tools.
3. Budget pumpkin carving kit
- Buy it now: Create and Craft (£5.09)
This inexpensive set includes five cute mini tools plus templates to get you started.
4. GoStock Pumpkin Carving Kit (the kit we used)
- Buy it now: Amazon (£18.99)
Like the kit we used? This pumpkin carving kit contains all the tools you need and comes with a useful zip bag (it’s also wipe clean – very useful for all those stringy pumpkin guts!) to keep everything safe and organised. Watch our pumpkin carving video tutorial to see this kit in action!
Best pumpkin carving + Jack O’ Lantern face 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
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 Jack O’ Lantern face 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 pumpkin 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 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 (£2.72)
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
- Try these 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 (£8.99)
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
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. Good to Know Jack O’ Lantern face templates
If you’re feeling overwhelmed for choice, Good To Know has a nice selection of easy, classic pumpkin carving templates.
13. The Pumpkin Lady templates
- Jack O’ Lantern 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?
14. The Pumpkin Lady
The Pumpkin Lady has such a massive selection of free pumpkin carving templates, you’ll be spoilt for choice! We absolutely love this bandit pumpkin carving template.
15. WOO! Kid’s Activities
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.
16. Readers Digest 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!
17. Free Jack O’ Lantern Face Stencil Gallery
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!
Pumpkin carving ideas
1. Martha Stewart pumpkin owl
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.
2. Skull a Day
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!
3. Place of my Taste
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!
4. The Crafted Life
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.
How about this contemporary pop art twist on the classic carved pumpkin? Visit Whippenberry for more easy black and white easy pumpkin carving ideas.
6. One Little Project
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.
7. Mini Fairy Garden
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.