Whether new or old to the art of carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns for Halloween, we all seek the next best hack or method to make it easier or more interesting to impress onlookers. If you’re a seasoned carver, you may know a few of these tricks already, however there still may be a few that you find infinitely useful. Try out these ideas next time you gather friends and family to carve festive pumpkins to celebrate Halloween or the fall and harvest season, and adopt some new tried and true jack-o-lantern hacks into your yearly traditions.
(Note: make sure you practice caution and supervise children in handling carving tools.)
15. Cut a triangle in lid
This is one of the most simple, and one of the most useful, ideas on this list. Ever find yourself struggling over and over again to find the right way the pumpkin’s lid goes on after you’ve removed it? To save yourself from the hassle of spinning the pumpkin’s lid and guessing which way it goes, save yourself the headache.
Instead of cutting a perfect circle for the lid, add a triangle notch, (pointing in or out, depending on your preference,) or incorporate any other irregular shape into the lid. This way, next time you go to replace the top, you’ll easily and quickly be able to match it up for a perfect fit the first try.
14. Cut vent in lid
Another important consideration in the lid is to keep in mind ventilation. If you are planning to use a candle’s flame to light your jack-o-lantern, depending on the size and duration of the flame, you may want to add a vent to the back top of your pumpkin’s shell or cut out a notch for a vent in the lid.
This will keep the pumpkin’s lid from scorching or any possibility of burning. It will also allow oxygen to freely flow and reach the flame, saving your candle from being smothered by being closed off with the lid if there aren’t enough “air holes” coming from the design or face you carved.
13. Carve hole in bottom
The bottom? It may sound odd at first, but strangely enough makes sense. If you carve and discard a circle out of the base of your pumpkin, it is so much easier to place it over your chosen light source instead of fishing your arm inside the pumpkin and struggling to light candles.
It also adds a very clean look to the top of the pumpkin by having the top and stem intact in a smooth, uninterrupted surface. For an even sleeker and seamless look, you can also carve an opening in the lower back of the pumpkin to insert the light source. (This also completely eliminates any problems with the pumpkin’s lid.)
12. Extend life of carved pumpkin
There’s nothing worse than watching your hours of hard work in carving your pumpkin disappear in just a few days as the pumpkin quickly rots. There are a few ways you can extend the life of your jack-o-lantern so you can make sure it will last until Halloween or to also enjoy it long after the holiday is over.
Sources suggest spraying the interior of your pumpkin with a diluted bleach mixture, vinegar mixture, or coating with petroleum jelly, and more. Give the internet a quick scour for the exact method of your choice of preservation.
11. Double use
This is another very cute and useful way to get “double use” out of this year’s pumpkin. If you purchase your pumpkins early and have them waiting on your doorstep until it’s time to carve them, you’re missing out on a great chance to display a design or face on your pumpkin while waiting—without carving!
Use thin, if you can, layers of washable acrylic paints to add vivid designs to your pumpkins while they lay in wait to be carved. When the time comes to carve them, scrape or wash off the paint with soap and warm water. Then it is good as new to get a second debut as a Halloween decoration.
10. Alternative light sources
If you’re concerned about using candles to light your pumpkin, don’t worry. There are plenty of other awesome, safe alternatives to lighting your jack-o-lantern. There are of course LED candles that will provide the same warm glow and flicker of real candles. For a one night use, glow sticks will add an eerie look to your jack-o-lantern.
If you want to surprise viewers, add glow-in-the-dark paint designs that will only show on your pumpkin at night. If these are too dim for your area or you feel they are too short-lived, use Christmas or fairy lights for the brightest, dazzling display. There are even Halloween-colored Christmas lights you can use.
Experiment with different Christmas light colors and settings for a stellar display, without the danger.
9. Fix mistakes
There’s nothing more soul-crushing when you press too hard, carve too thin, slip in carving, or otherwise accidentally break off a piece of your meticulous design. Don’t give up or get upset that your carving is ruined, however. Toothpicks and/or wooden skewers will come to the rescue.
Not only can they save broken-off pieces, but you can also add more 3D elements to your jack-o-lantern by using them to stick pieces on. (Such as ears, horns, eyebrows, and more!) Just carefully insert toothpicks to re-attach any mistakes, and no one will even know that there was a carving accident!
8. Use better tools
If you want to get really serious in the detail of your design, forgo the ultra-flimsy knives that come in pumpkin-carving kits and opt for more professional tools that will make it easier to achieve well-executed designs. Look for woodworking or woodcarving tools at your local craft shop.
They can be relatively inexpensive, but even if they are somewhat of an investment, you won’t have to re-purchase cheap tools every year. They are sure to last longer than tiny orange knives that seem to always break.
7. Use power tools
Speaking of upgrading your tools, power tools can also aid in unique designs. Using a drill with different bits attached can create different outcomes of repeating patterns, letters, or, typically, polka-dots. You can also use drills to create one-of-a-kind faces—and quickly.
Dremel tools are also a good choice for quickly sawing away finer details. They are even special, specifically jack-o-lantern Dremel tools! Experiment with the tools and tips you have to see what creative shapes you can drill away into the shell of your pumpkin.
6. Use cookie cutters
If you like the idea of fast, premeditated shapes, you’ll love this easy and cool-looking idea. Cookie cutters can be used for more than baking spooky-themed cookies and treats for the big day. Use those sturdy cookie cutters to make shapes in your pumpkin. You can use them to trace the shapes and carve them out, but you can also use a hammer or rubber mallet to pound the cookie cutter into the pumpkin to punch out a clean shape. You needn’t use plain circles, hearts, and stars, however; there are plenty of Halloween-themed cookie cutter shapes out there that can be used for treats and creative, easy jack-o-lanterns!
5. Use the stem as a nose
If you want to add a quirky twist to the old-fashioned jack-o-lantern face, try using the stem as the nose. This will immediately add visual interest and a very Halloween-style twist since the stem will look like a witch nose. Using the top as the face is also a good idea if your pumpkin doesn’t have any good sides to work with to make a more “traditional” face.
See what your “nose” (stem) looks like and carve a fun, crazy face to go with it! This unique and creative take will surely turn heads. (An extra tip: make sure you shave off a portion of the “new” bottom of to make a flat surface, so your pumpkin won’t roll away!)
4. Use ice cream scoop
If you’re sick of the pain of scooping out the pumpkin insides and fight to scrape the walls with inadequate, plastic scoops, there’s something that pretty much everyone has in their kitchen drawer right now that will work amazingly in getting the pumpkin cleaned.
An ice cream scoop is naturally strong to combat possibly frozen ice cream and will surely stand against scooping out pumpkin guts. They are also typically metal and have a very thin edge that will help cut through the pumpkin’s walls to clean out.
The deep scoop is the perfect size for lifting out the scraped away mess, and with the “dropping” function that many have, it couldn’t get easier or more reliable. Make an investment in a good, strong ice cream scoop.
3. Re-use the insides
If you’re being conscientious and trying to limit your jack-o-lantern waste, instead of needlessly throwing away all those pounds of pumpkin guts straight into the garbage, you can re-use them. Separate the seeds from the goop while you are carving as best you can. (Have a “seed” bowl and “goop” bowl.) After separated, rinse the seeds well to remove any slime and spread them out on paper towel to dry. After dry, put on a lightly greased cookie sheet, season, and roast. (Check out different recipes to roast pumpkin seeds on the web.) After they cool, enjoy fresh pumpkin seeds as a treat! You can also wash and save the seeds to re-plant your own pumpkins for next year. Finally, you can also save the “goop” part to use as a part of your pumpkin carving—make it look like your pumpkin’s going to the bathroom, throwing up, or display as the pumpkin’s brains. Get creative to re-use every part of the pumpkin.
2. Use washable markers
To plan out your design, it’s common to use markers or sharpies to draw out the shapes or face. However, these prove hard to remove after carving and can make your pumpkin look awful and messy. Next time use washable markers, such as dry-erase markers, and try to use colors that aren’t so harsh as black and “blend in” more, such as red, green, and purple.
It’s also found that the “juice” from the pumpkin when carving is a natural way to expertly remove marker marks! Take some of the pumpkin guts or the juicy edge of a cut-off chunk and rub it onto the marker, and wipe away with a paper towel.
1. Make a diorama instead
This is a really cute, nontraditional but still highly creative idea that you can change year after year. Make a pumpkin diorama! Cut a large “stage” area out of the front of your pumpkin (a huge circle/oval/square/etc. shape) and create a little spooky scene nested in the space. Use store-bought tiny decorations or hand-make a scene.
You can even carve a giant circle off the front of a fake pumpkin and design a new Halloween diorama scene year after year, or, if you love a certain design, glue in your scene in a fake pumpkin to proudly display year after year. Check your local craft store for small decorations, ideas, and any little bought items you can incorporate, and have fun!