People have been carving pumpkins in America for centuries. The tradition originates from Irish folklore. The Irish would carve out turnips and potatoes to ward off the mythical Stingy Jack and other evil spirits. When Irish settlers came to America, they found pumpkins and decided to use those instead. Americans have been carving Jack O’Lanterns into pumpkins ever since.

Pick the Right Pumpkin

pumpkin patch

Picking out pumpkins can be as fun as carving them out. Make a family trip of it — load the kids up and head to your local pumpkin patch. Have a design in mind before you pick out your pumpkin. There’s nothing worse than running out of room halfway through carving.

Check for a consistent shade of orange throughout the pumpkin. Keep an eye out for soft spots, cuts, dings. Also make sure the rind and stem are firm. Soft spots and sagging can mean your gourd is already starting to rot. To make sure the pumpkin is ripe, knock on it with your knuckles just like you do for watermelon and cantaloupe. If it sounds hallow, it’s ripe.

Pumpkin Carving Tools

If you want to minimize the cost of pumpkin carving, you can get away with just using a serrated bread knife or a steak knife. Don’t use a flat-edge knife; you’ll have to apply more force in order to cut and you won’t have much control over the blade. We suggest using a jab saw, serrated knife, or a knife specifically made for carving pumpkins. You can get everything you need from pumpkin carving kits.

If you’re going for a trickier design, you might want to have a permanent marker on hand. You can draw your design onto the pumpkin and trace over it with the knife. Since it’s dangerous for small children to use sharp blades, having them draw the design on the pumpkin can be a great way to include them in the process. You can even print off templates for them to trace.

No-Mess Pumpkin Carving

We hate to break it to you, but there’s no such thing as mess-less pumpkin carving. It just comes with the territory. There are, however, ways to make it less messy. If it’s still warm out, you can carve pumpkins outside and leave the scraps for birds and squirrels to pick over. If outdoor carving isn’t an option, lay some newspaper or a plastic tablecloth down on the kitchen table. Have a large bowl ready to dump the seeds into.

Cleaning Out the Pumpkin

pumpkin guts

Carefully cut the stem out the top of the pumpkin, creating a hole big enough to fit your hand through. Go in at an angle so that the stem will rest on top of the pumpkin without falling through.Trim the guts off the bottom of the stem and set it aside.

Using a large spoon or your bare hands, dig in and scoop out the seeds and guts and place them in a large bowl or in the garbage. You can save the seeds and roast them for a sweet autumn treat.

Draw Your Design

Using a either a permanent or dry erase marker (dry erase will rub off easily if you make a mistake) trace or freehand your design onto the pumpkin. Here are those templates again if you want to print one off. You can also trace your design by making surface cuts in the pumpkin skin or taping a template directly onto it.

Here’s one of our favorite designs.

western cowboy pumpkin

Carving

Make sure you are using a jab saw or serrated knife. Using a gentle, back-and-forth sawing motion, slowly trace your design with the knife. Gently push the cut-out pieces and set them to the side as you progress.

You can even try painting your pumpkin fun colors before or after carving!

Pumpkin Lighting

You can never go wrong using candle to light your Jack O-Lantern. However, if you’re looking to add some pizzazz to your porch, try using a battery-powered LED light, flashing light, black light, or even glow sticks.

You only get to carve pumpkins once a year — make the most of it!

If you have your own pumpkin carving tips to share, leave a comment and share this post on Facebook!