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How To Carve a Jack-O-Lantern Pumpkin (Beginner Guide)

Carving a jack-o-lantern is a Halloween tradition that raises holiday spirit and brings joy to families all over. This simple pumpkin carving guide will go over Halloween pumpkin carving for beginners. Follow this guide to take any pumpkin and turn it into an amazing looking jack-o-lantern.

Recommended Equipment:

• Sharp Knife

• Serrated Knife

• Large Spoon

Pumpkin Carving Kit 

• Crayon or sharpie

• Newspaper or Cardboard (Optional)

• Bowl for seeds & guts (Optional)

Simple Pumpkin Carving Guide

Step 1: Choose your pumpkin

Step 2: Set up Halloween pumpkin carving station

Step 3: Remove the top of pumpkin

Step 4: Clean out the pumpkin “guts”

Step 5: Carve your pumpkin design

Step 6: Insert a light 

Step 7: Display your Halloween jack-o-lantern

Follow our illustrated Halloween pumpkin carving guide with extra tips below to make your own Halloween carving tradition this year. The simple pumpkin carving steps above are a quick reference for when you’re in a hurry.

However, the section below explains each step in more detail with photos for clarity. Hopefully this guide will bring you and your family joy this holiday season and leave you with a jack-o-lantern you can be proud of.

choosing a pumpkin at patch

Pumpkin Carving For Beginners

The first step when making a Halloween jack-o-lantern is to choose your pumpkin. Choosing the right pumpkin is easy when doing a simple pumpkin carving. However, more elaborate carvings with stencils may require specific shapes and sizes of pumpkins.

When you go to choose your pumpkin, it’s good to have an idea of what kind of design you plan to use.

Will it be a traditional face?
Do you want a large mouth with small eyes?

Knowing what you want can help you decide whether to pick a taller or rounder shaped pumpkin. Here are a couple Halloween pumpkin carving tips to keep in mind when choosing your pumpkin.

— Choose a pumpkin with a stem to use as a handle for removing the lid.

— Don’t carry your pumpkin by the stem or you may break it off by accident.

Find a Place for Halloween Pumpkin Carving

Once you have your pumpkin, the second step is to set up a pumpkin carving station so you can make a mess. You can put some old newspapers or cardboard down and place the pumpkin on top for carving.

If you don’t have newspapers, consider doing your Halloween pumpkin carving outside so you don’t need to worry as much about a mess. Next, get your pumpkin, the pumpkin cutting tools and a bowl if you plan on collecting the pumpkin seeds.

Basic tools needed for simple pumpkin carving are a large spoon, a sharp knife with a thin blade, and a smaller serrated knife for carving the design.

There are also low-cost child-safe Halloween pumpkin carving kits available. These kits are very affordable options which really allow kids to participate in Halloween pumpkin carving.

You can even get your child their own pumpkin and Halloween pumpkin carving kit so you can each make a jack-o-lantern step by step together.

simple-pumpkin carving removing lid
Cutting the top of your pumpkin

Carve the Top Off Your Pumpkin

lid-of-pumpkin carving for beginners

Once you have a Halloween pumpkin carving station ready to go, step three is to create a lid by removing the top of your pumpkin. Here are simple pumpkin carving tips to keep in mind when removing the lid of your pumpkin. 

Angle the knife while cutting off the top of your pumpkin. For Halloween pumpkin carving you don’t want your knife pointing down, making a straight cut. This is to prevent your pumpkin lid from falling into the pumpkin. To avoid this, keep your knife angled toward the center of your pumpkin as your carve around the stem and create the opening.

Hallowing-pumpkin carving hollowing out

Your lid does not have to be a circle. It can be a hexagon or even a star. However, a star will be more difficult to remove because of all the pointed tips.

— Your lid should be about 2 inches out from the stem on each side. It’s important that your opening is large enough to get your hand inside to scoop out the guts.

Get Rid of the Guts!

Step four in Pumpkin Carving for Beginners is often the most fun for kids… and the most messy. It’s time to scoop out the guts of your Halloween pumpkin. Use the big spoon to scoop the seeds, pulp and the rest of the slimy stuff out.

Halloween pumpkin carving removing the guts

Or you can just plunge your hand inside and start pulling everything out! If you are going to be roasting pumpkin seeds you will want to have a bowl nearby to save the seeds.

In fact, kids may like having the job of separating the seeds from the “pumpkin brains” and putting them in the bowl. It’s a slimy, messy job which makes it perfect for kids. 

Scrape lid Halloween pumpkin carving

After most of the slimy orange stuff is removed, use the spoon to scrape the inside walls of your pumpkin clean. Since this is pumpkin carving for beginners, don’t forget to cut a thin layer off your pumpkin lid to remove the slimy stuff from the lid too. Here are simple pumpkin carving tips to keep in mind when cleaning out your pumpkin.

Simple pumpkin carving out the inside

— Make sure to scrape the bottom of your pumpkin well so that it’s nice and flat. This is where you will be placing the light, so you want a nice flat space to put your candles.

— Gently scrape the bottom of your pumpkin to make a flat surface. Don’t scrape the bottom too hard or too much. Some pumpkins are thin or soft and can begin cracking as they break through to the outside. (One year my bottom cracked from this, which caused it to rot prematurely from the inside.)

Design Time

The fifth step in this simple pumpkin carving guide is to carve your pumpkin design and make a jack-o-lantern. Now that your pumpkin is hollowed out, inspect it and decide which side will be best to carve on. This will depend on your jack-o-lantern design, the shape of your pumpkin, the thickness of the walls and your other preferences.

How to carve a pumpkin

Once you have chosen a side, use your sharpie or crayon to draw your jack-o-lantern face. You can also apply stencils, or gently cut guiding lines through a face drawn on paper. 

Once a basic outline of your design is drawn on the pumpkin it’s time to begin cutting out the face. Take your serrated knife and start cutting. If you are a beginning pumpkin carver I recommend doing the mouth last because it will be the most difficult. Get some experience with the eyes and nose first.

From Pumpkin to Jack-O-Lantern

carving a Halloween jack-o-lantern

After you cut out each piece of the design, use your fingers on the inside of the pumpkin to push it out. If a piece won’t come out, you may not have cut it completely. Also, some pieces can be difficult to remove due to their shape. For example, cutting around small teeth and the corners of the mouth may cause issues.

First make sure that all the edges are completely cut through, and then you may need to cut the part you are removing into smaller parts.

The important thing is not to wiggle the knife around the edges because this can damage your design or break teeth. It’s better to cut the mouth into three easily removable pieces. Here are Halloween pumpkin carving tips to keep in mind while carving.

— Do your cutting on the outside of your sharpie lines or else black marker will show on the pumpkin in the daylight.

My teeth accidentally broke off, what do I do? You can easily fix this by grabbing a toothpick and sticking it through the top of the tooth. Next push the toothpick into the mouth of your jack-o-lantern. If the tooth was ruined, you can carve a new one using a piece of the mouth you removed while carving out the face.

Light it Up!

simple pumpkin carving jack-o-lantern

The sixth step in Pumpkin Carving for Beginners is to place a light inside your pumpkin and put it on display. For lighting your jack-o-lantern there is the option of using a real candle or a light.

Traditionally, real candles were used inside of jack-o-lantern, but now flameless candles are often used too. I am in California where fire safety, pets and October heat are reasons that flameless candles have become the norm. For these reasons, I recommend the flickering lights that look like candles to put inside jack-o-lanterns.

guide to jack-o-lantern lights

Your new jack-o-lantern will look great no matter how you decide to light it.

The seventh and last  step is to proudly display your newly made jack-o-lantern! Put it inside or outside or anywhere you want.

Pumpkin carving on display

  Check out these fun Halloween topics!

Halloween Games for a Kids Party

Superstitions and Halloween

Halloween Trivia