Pumpkin Carving Tips from the Pros

Decorating, Home & Family
on October 6, 2014
Pumpkin Carving Tips from the Pros
Photo by Bryan Haeffele; Carving by Michael Natiello

Master pumpkin carvers Ray Villafane and Michael Natiello. Read more about Villafane and his famous pumpkins here.

Carving Tips from Ray Villafane

  • Go big—and ugly. When pumpkin picking, think gnarly and thick-walled over smooth and thin-skinned.
  • Skip the supermarket. For best selection, hit a farm stand or pumpkin patch.
  • Sketch it out. “It helps to have reference material—a drawing, something from the Internet, or even a mirror,” he says.
  • Up your game. Try carving with clay sculpting tools, available in art stores.
  • Make it last. Spray exposed pumpkin flesh with lemon juice to keep your pumpkin on the porch an extra day or two.
  • Skip the carving. Don’t feel confident cutting up? Bring your pumpkin to life with stick-on arms and legs. (Available at VillafaneStudios.com).

Carving Tips from Master Pumpkin Carvers

Villafane Studios

Tips on Tools from Pumpkin Pro Michael Natiello

Always use good quality tools and make sure they are sharp.

A basic carving kit includes:

  • keyhole saw for cutting a big hole in the bottom (always the bottom, never the top)
  • ice cream scoop for scraping out the insides
  • paring knife or small steak knife for cutting out shapes
  • X-Acto/craft utility knife for detail work

How to Pick the Perfect Pumpkin

Looking for a picture-worthy pumpkin for your front step? Mac Condill, 37, who grows more than 300 varieties of pumpkin and squash on his fifth-generation farm in Arthur, Ill., shares some tips.

  • Reject pumpkins with cracks, holes or soft spots—these will lead to premature rotting.
  • Never lift or carry a pumpkin by the stem; it could break off.
  • Don’t limit yourself to orange. Condill grows white, black, red and gray pumpkins.
  • Keep your pumpkin away from extreme heat or cold.

Pumpkin Particulars

The jack-o’-lantern tradition started in the British Isles, where turnips, potatoes and beets were carved, filled with embers and used as lanterns. (From Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History, Pelican Publishing, 1998).

The largest jack-o’-lantern ever was carved by Scott Cully in 2010 from a 1,810 pound pumpkin. (Guinness World Records)

Illinois produces the most pumpkins each year, followed by California, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. (Agricultural Marketing Resource Center at Iowa State University).