The Tao of Halloween: Pumpkin sculpting

October 21, 2014

Having enjoyed pumpkin carving as a child, I adopted it as a tradition in my family. Every Halloween, we buy pumpkins, design whatever comes into our heads, and then carve it into reality.

My kids are not yet old enough to wield even the safety carving set. Being duller than a butter knife makes it nice and safe, but you would have to be a bruiser to plunge that thing into a pumpkin rind and then saw.

My daughter does not get the whole “design your own” part of the process, so I offer her easy options for the eyes, nose, and mouth. Once she’s picked her favorites, I draw them on the pumpkin skin with a black marker.

My youngest son gets the idea of drawing a face on the pumpkin, but does not understand the three-dimensional part. His drawing is somewhat difficult to cut out with any tool, so I translate his designs and then, with his stamp of approval, cut them out.

My oldest son drew Pac-Man on his and I had to inform him that, if I cut it out, it would just look like one big lobotomy hole in the pumpkin’s side. So he took advantage of his sister’s unused design options and asked me to cut it out on the opposite side of the pumpkin.



My pumpkin, a bit larger than theirs, involved less “carving” than “sculpting.” I drew the pumpkin on a sheet of paper, plotted out my idea, and then reproduced the drawing on the pumpkin in black marker.

I used a set of Exacto precision blades to cut and scrape the outer flesh. If you ever want to attempt this, I highly recommend substituting a hand-held electric rotary tool with a variety of bits. It will be messier, but you can do a lot more in the same amount of time with ease.

•Pumpkin(s). Duh, but think about size of your pumpkin design engineer and pick accordingly. If that person cannot handle a large size, get a little one.

•Paper and pencils for drawing your design. If you are not very creative, there are free templates online.

•Ice cream scoop or big spoon.

•Knife, carving set, precision cutter, or electric rotary tool. Please be safe and only allow your kids to handle tools that are age/maturity-appropriate!

•Drop cloth, newspaper, or other disposable covering for table and floor. You can handle a pumpkin pretty neatly if you are going the simple design route. If you are doing hard-core pumpkin sculpting, especially with an electric rotary tool, you will need to cover the entire area.

•Marker. It needs to show up easily against the orange skin and not wipe off if you have to rotate the pumpkin.

You can have a standard pumpkin carved up in approximately half an hour. Remove all the guts and, once the inside is clean-ish, make small cuts into the design at an angle that will allow you to pop out the unneeded chunks.

Then cut out a lid. Cut all the way through to the interior at an angle, so the lid will pull out but not fall out.

Once you have cut fully around the lid, make a second pass a little deeper to be sure you have a fully detached piece of rind. Expect to meet resistance from tendrils of guts and seeds. Use your scoop or spoon as a lever and apply slowly increasing pressure to pry it up.

Once you have the lid off, scrape it smooth. If you plan to go old-school by installing an “analog” candle with an actual flame, any goop you leave could be problematic.

Use the scoop again to clean out the inside more. You might even consider spraying it with a waterproof sealant so it is frozen in time. If you do that, make sure you do it in a clean, ventilated space. Also, do not put the lid back on unless you never plan to remove it. If you use a flame, be certain that your sealant is not flammable. You do not want to light a pumpkin bomb on your front porch.

The Tao of Do-It-Yourself is intended to de-mystify simple home and auto maintenance projects. It is not a substitute for professional repair services. If you cannot identify the problem you are trying to fix, refer to the proper specialist right away.

A.T. Miller is an electrician’s apprentice who builds and wires control panels for power systems. He is also a cartoonist, writer, and web/graphic designer. At home, he is an amateur repairman, plumber, electrician, carpenter, and auto mechanic. His most important job is that of husband and father.

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