How to Carve a Pumpkin Like a Pro

6 jack-o’-lantern hacks from master craftsmen

By The Editors
October 23, 2015 9:00 am

Every year, you say it:

This is the year I carve an amazing pumpkin.

Terrify the neighborhood children. Catch passersby Instagramming your work. Wipe the smug-eating grin off Steve-from-three-doors-down’s stupid face the night of the local carving contest.

And then you just don’t do it. Entropy, gents.

But this year’s going to be different. Because we’ve rounded up three carving professionals from three different-but-complementary backgrounds on the ins and outs of pumpkin carving.

The style you choose is as important as the design itself
Tattoo artist Steve Fawley starts with an aesthetic rather a subject. “American traditional (think Sailor Jerry) is known for its boldness and readability. I like my designs to be legible from across the street, which will help get your jack-o’-lantern noticed.”

Think outside the pumpkin
“Orient the pumpkin in a non-traditional way, perhaps using the stem as a nose or horn,” says ice-carving champion Scott Grove. “Peeling away a portion of the surface can give more aesthetic options.”

Sketch it out
Don’t just stand your canvas up and start hacking at it willy-nilly.  “What I do is I outline the design first,” says designer/woodworker Palo Samko. “First I draw it on the pumpkin, and then I cut about a quarter inch deep into the pumpkin along the lines (using a boxcutter). Then I take a short serrated knife and saw the rest of the way through the skin.” Outlining this way means fewer mistakes and your knife won’t slip out.

Use the right tools
Those cheap plastic knives from Wal-Mart are fine for a 10-year-old. But neighborhood bragging rights are gonna require some heavier lifting. “I’d consider using a power tool like a Dremel,” says Fawley. “Forget carving it up manually with a knife — that’ll take hours.”

More is more
Via Grove: “Mies Van der Rohe said, ‘Less is more.’ Well, Scott Grove says, ‘More is more.’ Keep carving more than you would expect, which yields the unexpected. Also, don’t get too focused on what it should look like: take your knife and just start carving.”

When in doubt, listen to your kids
“My youngest daughter, she loves owls, so we did some owls,” says Samko. “And my son, he’s into robots, so we did an Iron Man mask. We let the kids choose what they want.” What they lack in acute motor skills, kids make up for in imagination. Use them to your benefit accordingly.

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