Pumpkin Carving Tips for National Pumpkin Day

October 26 is National Pumpkin Day. Celebrate by turning a plain gourd into a work of art.  

The key to carving a successful jack-o'-lantern is having the right tools, using a template and when you're done, slathering it with the best preservative. 

Get The Right Tools

You can get fancy and use power rotary tools or special woodworking chisels, but simple tools made specifically for pumpkins work best for carving basic designs. Unless you’re doing some complicated, multi-dimensional piece, a good scoop and a few knives will do. You can get a decent pumpkin carving kit for less than $10. My kit has two different sized knives, a poker for creating starter holes, and a big spoon with a serated edge that made scooping out the stringy innards nice and easy.

Use a Template

A carving template is the easiest way to go. You don’t need special artistic skills to pull off an awesome creation, and we have a bunch for you to choose from, take a look. All these templates are on a standard 8-1/2” x 11” page, so you may have to scale the design to match the size of your pumpkin.

43 Pumpkin Carving Templates

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Beetle Pumpkin-Carving Stencil

Like this beetle pumpkin template? We have 33 more at DIYNetwork.com. Download, resize then print one your favorite stencil. Attach it to your pumpkin and trace the pattern onto the surface, then start carving.

Cat Pumpkin-Carving Stencil

Like this cat pumpkin template? We have 33 more at DIYNetwork.com. Download, resize then print one your favorite stencil. Attach it to your pumpkin and trace the pattern onto the surface, then start carving.


Adhere Template With Water

To save time, instead of taping the template to the pumpkin or tracing the design, wet the paper and smooth it down onto the surface. Depending on the design and the shape of your gourd, you can cut the paper to get it to lay flat. But, you may not be able to cut the template if it’s a silhouette like the ghost pictured below, but for a face like this one, you may be able to adjust the pattern so it wraps flat around the gourd. 

Secure Template With Plastic

Once you’ve got the creases out of the paper, lay a piece of plastic wrap over the paper and smooth that down.

Use Your Lap

Now that your pattern is in place, you can begin carving. It's easiest to work with the pumpkin in your lap so you can hold it securely. Start by piercing the pumpkin with a poker or a knife and then slowly work around the inside of the lines. Be sure to cut inside the lines, if the holes are not big enough, you can always go back later and make them bigger.

Keep the Template Damp

If the paper starts to dry up, lift up the plastic wrap and use a squirt bottle to dampen the paper. If the paper and plastic start bunching up too much, just lift your knife out and re-poke it through the surface. 

Cut Until Complete

Continue cutting until you finish the whole pattern. You may find the paper tears off as the chunks of pumpkin come loose. Once you're done, peel off the remaining plastic and paper. 

Preserve With Petroleum Jelly

Some colleagues of mine at HGTV.com did an experiment on how best to preserve a jack- o’-lantern. They applied a bunch of different solutions (peppermint oil and WD40 to name a few) to some freshly carved pumpkins to see what worked best at keeping them fresh. After a week, they found that petroleum jelly was the winner. It kept the pumpkin moist and prevented mold growth. Take a look at the pumpkin preservation experiment

Light It Up

Use a battery-operated candle or puck light to illuminate your creation. You can use a regular candle, but then you’ll have to worry about safety and the petroleum jelly melting all over your candle. Play it safe.

Last-Minute Pumpkin Decorating Ideas

Check out these super simple, no-carve ways to decorate pumpkins.

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