If you want to be a cucurbit carving master, you’ll need to plunk down a few bucks and buy a pumpkin carving tool set. Not only are these tools easier to use, but they reduce the risk of lost appendages. After you’ve got your kit, follow these easy steps:
1. Open It. Traditional jack-o’-lanterns cut open pumpkins at the top, using the stem as a handle. Although it cuts into carving space, this method works well until the very end when it’s time to place lighted candles in the interior; flame has a habit of burning upwards. To avoid fire-related accidents, carve your hole out of the bottom of the pumpkin. After you’re done, place a lit candle on the bottom piece and fit the pumpkin over top.
2. Clean It Out. This the part of pumpkin carving that kids live for; there’s something delightful about sticking your hand into the slimy guts of a gourd and ripping them out. Once the seeds are removed, scrape the interior smooth.
3. Find a Design. Your pumpkin is a blank canvas limited only by your imagination. Search online for “pumpkin template” and you’ll find everything from elaborate scary faces to cute pop-culture icons. Or, create your own design using positive and negative space. If you’re a newbie, go with something that has simple lines and large shapes.
4. Transfer the Design. When you’ve got the right image at the right size, tape your pattern onto the pumpkin. The flat paper isn’t going to sit nicely against your round pumpkin; crease the paper along the outside of the design. Use a pointed tool to trace the design by puncturing small holes through the paper and into the pumpkin. Pumpkin carving kits typically come with a tool that rolls, punching holes as it goes, but any small, pointed tool will work.
5. Carve It. When the pattern has been traced, remove the pattern and pull out the carving tools. With the pattern already transferred, it’s just a matter of carefully following the lines you’ve already created. When you’ve finished cutting out the main pieces, take time to go back over the design and clean it up. Smooth lines and clean holes are what make your jack-o’-lantern look sharp.
6. Light It Up. When your design is finalized, take your pumpkin to the kitchen sink and give it a quick shower to rinse off any remaining bits and pieces. Let it dry before placing a light source in it.
— Patience is as essential a tool to pumpkin carving as anything you can buy at the store. Find a couple hours in your schedule that you can go slow and enjoy the process. This is only truer if you’re attempting to carve multiple pumpkins with children.
— Instead of using a candle, plug in a short string of Christmas lights and place them inside your pumpkin.
— If you’re going to keep your pumpkin outside, know that freezing temperatures will quickly turn it into a pile of slop. Consider bringing it back inside when temperatures drop.
— No matter what you do, the interior of your pumpkin will soon be much scarier than whatever you carved on the outside of it. Both microbes and dehydration will overtake your work within days. You can slow the rotting process slightly by misting the interior of your pumpkin with bleach water and letting it dry.
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