Your Guide to Pumpkin Carving 101

Wield a carving knife with artistic confidence next Halloween.

There's a pumpkin face for every carver on Halloween. (Photo: JeniFoto/Shutterstock)

Last night was pumpkin-carving night at my house. Out came the carving supplies, and down we sat to create our masterpieces. Back in the day (you know, a million years ago, when I was a kid), it seemed like you were creative if you carved circles instead of triangles for your jack-o'-lantern's eyes. But today the sky is the limit when it comes to pumpkin carving designs.

Don't let all of these new designs scare you. Fortunately, there are free templates galore on the Internet for everything from apples to zebras and anything in between. All you have to do is print, trace, and carve. Here's how to turn your plain old pumpkin into this year's Halloween masterpiece.

Gather Supplies

To get started, you'll need a pumpkin (obvious, I know) and your carving supplies. A large spoon or ice cream scoop, a thin-bladed knife, and some newspaper will work fine. We bought one of those $2 kits about five years ago and are constantly amazed that it still works.

Pick Out Your Design

simple pumpkin carving ideas for Halloween
You don't have to go the stencil route if you just want a simple pumpkin on the front step. Just draw and go. (Photo: alexkich/Shutterstock)

If you just want a simple pumpkin carving idea, grab a dark-colored marker and draw it on the pumpkin (which should be clean and dry). This HGTV gallery has a good batch of simple ideas that are easy to replicate. You can spell out ideas—"Eeek!" or "Boo!" are great, short options—or you could also get several pumpkins and put one letter on each to spell a word.

Use the Pumpkin's Shape and Texture to Your Advantage

Interesting shaped pumpkins and gourds for easy Halloween pumpkin display
If you bring home an odd-shaped pumpkin or gourd, your task is half-way done. (Photo:

Squashes and gourds are delightfully shaped, colored, and textured in unusual ways. Use these unique features to your advantage, such as using their pointy ends as natural "hats" and adding funny faces. Hollow them out by cutting a circle in the base; this leaves the upper pointy end intact. Never underestimate the power of a good hat—what's true in fashion is also true for Halloween!

group of simple carved pumpkins with hats on some of them
These jack-o'-lanterns are easy to carve, but adding a hat or even creatively stacking them will create a more enticing arrangement. (Photo: Yellowj/Shutterstock)

If you want a more complex design and will be using a template from a kit or the Internet, print it out now so it's ready to go.

Here are a few sites with complex carving ideas to consider:

Cut and Scoop

With your thin-bladed knife, cut out a circle at the top of the pumpkin around the stem. Make the hole large enough to allow you to scoop out the guts, seeds, and stringy membrane of the pumpkin with your large spoon or scoop. (Tip: Keep the seeds for roasting!)


If you've got a freehand design in mind, your pumpkin is all set to carve away. If you're using a template, place it where you want it on the pumpkin and fasten it with tape. Use a small knife or sharp transfer tool to trace the design, poking small holes along the design. For complicated designs, make sure these holes are close together. These will be your guidelines for carving. Next, use your thin-bladed knife to carve along the lines and create your design.

Light It Up

Once your pumpkin is carved, you can trim up the edges and clean out any pieces that may have fallen into your pumpkin. Your jack-o'-lantern should be ready for display. For added effect, place a small candle inside to bring your design to life.

Voilà, a spooky Halloween masterpiece!