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How to Carve a Better Jack-o'-Lantern | DIY Instructions

How to Carve a Better Jack-o’-Lantern | DIY Instructions
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Photo/Art by Jarrod McCabe

Professional carver Sean Fitzpatrick, owner of Fitzy Snowman Sculpting (, which also specializes in snow, ice, and sand, turns the common pumpkin into high art. Ghostly castle scenes and garish witches are just a few favorites. “There’s nothing better than hearing a kid walk behind me when I’m carving and just go, ‘Wow!'” Fitzpatrick says. “That’s so rewarding.”

Instructions to Carve a Jack-o’-Lantern

The Right Gourd
The perfect¬†Jack-o’-Lantern begins with a perfectly healthy pumpkin. Inspect your gourd for any mold: The stem, for example, should be free of fuzz and black dots. You also don’t want any soft spots on the skin. “You shouldn’t be able to squeeze it,” Fitzpatrick says. “That means it was picked late or went through a bad growing season.”


Photo/Art by Polly Becker

Tools of the Trade
“Some of the best tools are the simple ones,” Fitzpatrick advises. To clean out a pumpkin’s insides, he often uses an ice-cream scooper, followed by a scouring pad to polish the walls and rid them of any stringlets. A flexible serrated knife–or, even better, a jigsaw–is great for intricate cuts, while a clay-carving loop is terrific for engravings. You can also pick up an inexpensive and versatile carving kit at most craft shops.


Photo/Art by Polly Becker

Bottoms Up
“If you cut the top off as your lid, you’ll notice that it dries up first and actually shrinks,” Fitzpatrick notes. Get around that by cutting out the bottom instead; it’ll preserve the gourd’s look and help prevent moisture loss. To take the guesswork out of how the bottom lid goes back on, Fitzpatrick cuts out the shape of a pumpkin, stem included: “That way, you know how it lines up every single time.”

Copy That
Existing digital photos–say, of your child’s face–make for fun design templates, Fitzpatrick says. Simply run the image through a photo-editing software program, convert it to black-and-white, and then posterize it to create distinct tonal shades of white, gray, and black. Print out two copies and attach one to the pumpkin, covering it completely with clear packing tape. Next, outline the picture onto the pumpkin with a sharp blade. When you’re done, remove what’s left of the paper, and, with your second image as a reference, start carving. White areas are sections where you’ll cut all the way through the gourd; gray sections will be only partially deep; black areas require just a scraping of the surface.


Photo/Art by Polly Becker

Preserve & Protect
To give his final creations a bit more shelf life and keep the pumpkin from drying out, Fitzpatrick seals the cut edges with Vaseline. “And it helps preserve your design,” he says. After all that hard work, you’ll appreciate that.

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Ian Aldrich


Ian Aldrich


Senior editor of Yankee Magazine: Ian, a native New Englander who has worked and freelanced for Yankee for the past decade, writes feature stories, home pieces, and helps manage the magazine's up-front section, First Light. His stories have ranged from exploring the community impact from a church poisoning in a small town in northern Maine to dissecting the difficulties facing Nantucket around its problems with erosion. In addition to his connection to Yankee, Ian worked as a senior editor of Cincinnati Magazine for several years.
Updated Monday, August 8th, 2011

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