Simple steps for the best looking pumpkins on the block
Master Carver, John Bardeen, shares his top tips for creating an artful jack-o-lantern from the first step of picking a pumpkin, all the way through to taking photos of the final masterpiece on Halloween night.
Step 1: Picking Your Pumpkin
Choose your pumpkins early in the season for best selection. I seek out golden, dark orange pumpkins with thick stems—I’ve found them to last longer when displayed on my porch. Select pumpkins that are smooth and will complement the patterns you plan to use.
Step 2: Matching Pattern to Pumpkin
Bring your patterns to the pumpkin patch or the grocery store so you can be sure to find a pumpkin just the right size. Remember you can always reduce or enlarge your patterns on a copy machine. Shrinking or enlarging a pattern by 10% is usually all it takes to get the perfect fit.
Step 3: Preparing Your Pumpkin
I like to cut the bottom out because it makes it convenient to set the carved pumpkin over a light source. Scoop out the seeds and “goop” inside the pumpkin.
Use the small scoop for smaller pumpkins and smaller hands; use the large scoop for larger pumpkins and larger hands. Using the scrapper edge of the scoop, thin the area to be carved to 1-1 ¼" thick. Carving through more than 1" of pumpkin can break the blades.
Step 4: Placing Your Pattern
I like the pattern to be at least 3” down from the top and 3” up from the bottom of the pumpkin to avoid the thick walls around the stem and bottom. Cut the excess paper from around the pattern and tape it to the pumpkin while folding small pleats in the paper that allow the pattern to conform to the round shape of the pumpkin.
Step 5: Transferring Your Pattern
Transfer the pattern to the pumpkin by poking small holes along the design lines. If the poked holes are a bit difficult to see, simply rub baking flour over the surface of the pumpkin to turn the dots white! In more detailed areas, make poke marks closer together.
Step 6: Choosing the Right Tool:
The detail saw is only used for particularly intricate parts of the pattern. The bottom cutter saw is used to cut out the bottom of the pumpkin (as it is named) and parts of a pattern which may not require the fineness of the general saw (for instance, long straight lines, or sweeping arcs) and which will be finished more quickly using the larger saw teeth of the bottom-cutter. I use the general saw for 95+% of my carving.
The drills are designed to be used by exerting gentle pressure while twisting in a clockwise direction.
Step 7: Carving Your Pumpkin
Carve with the pumpkin comfortably resting in your lap and use a gentle up-and-down sawing motion while holding the saw at a 90-degree angle to the surface of the pumpkin. Never force the saw. Always keep the saw moving as you carve a curve, or take the saw blade out and reinsert it when carving a tight corner. The sawing motion I use has been compared to the motion of a sewing machine—straight up and down. I saw with my wrist straight and move my forearm and hand from my elbow. When carving a pattern, I hold the saw like a pencil. Do not use the saws to push out carved pieces. Carve from the middle of the pattern to the outside.
Step 8: Photographing Your Pumpkin
I use a 7-watt ceramic craft light or under-counter LED lights to photograph my jack-o-lanterns right after I carve them in order to admire my work and double check that all the pieces are cut out. I turn off the flash on my camera or smart phone and turn off most of the lights in the room, but some light is necessary to illuminate the outside surface of the pumpkin.
Step 9: Caring For Your Carved Pumpkin
After the first evening of display, I spritz the pumpkin with a solution of 1/3 bleach and 2/3 water and put plastic wrap over the carved area. The plastic wrap slows dehydration and intrusion of mold. I examine the pumpkins daily and re-spray around the edges and through the openings as needed for hydration. Pumpkins can be stored in a cool area such as one’s garage or in the refrigerator. For outdoor displaying, spray the outside of your pumpkins with the solution to deter squirrels from nibbling.