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Pumpkin Creatures: Tools and Techniques

Martha Stewart Living, October 2003

Use these guidelines as you dream up your own Pumpkin Creatures. Our step-by-step instructions will help with specific details that can be applied to different creatures. Once pumpkins are carved, they should last for about a week, so plan accordingly for your holiday display.

Tools

You probably already have useful tools for pumpkin-carving in your kitchen or tool kit. A serrated knife is good for cutting and carving; a sturdy spoon or melon baller is handy for scooping out pumpkin insides; a felt-tip pen or a china marker can be used for drawing details; and a drill is perfect for making holes.

Pick up a linoleum cutter, an inexpensive tool with a sharp, curved blade (available at crafts stores), for carving features such as eyes and teeth. For intricate effects, try chisels, wood gouges, and hole cutters, all available at hardware stores.

Drawing

You can freehand details such as whiskers directly on your pumpkin with a pen or marker as a template for carving. If you'd prefer to use an image from a book, first trace or photocopy it onto a sheet of paper. Tape paper over the pumpkin, and transfer the pattern by poking a pencil through the paper, and into pumpkin, along the lines of the design.

Carving

Use a serrated knife (or keyhole saw) to cut out the top or bottom and a spoon to scrape out the seeds and stringy pulp. Use the spoon to thin pumpkin walls to 1/2 to 3/4 inch, depending on the pumpkin (so carving out features will be easier and light will shine through). Cut holes in the backs of creatures for ventilation.

To create features or designs, use a linoleum cutter to carve the skin, but don't cut all the way through the flesh. For holes, use a drill with 1/4-, 3/8-, or 5/16-inch bits. (Drill holes all the way through -- they'll provide extra ventilation.)

Attaching

Anchor whole pumpkins or gourds, or pieces of them, to one another with toothpicks (except for the snake; see the how-to). Use as many toothpicks as necessary for a secure fit.

Safety

Remember that pumpkin-carving tools are sharp: All cutting should be done by adults.

Use outdoor holiday lights that have a label indicating they've been tested for safety. Discard or repair any broken sockets, frayed wires, or loose connections. To ensure that lights don't touch cords or one another, wrap 20 light strands evenly around a small glass or jar, securing wires to glass with tape.

Pumpkins should be well ventilated with holes so they don't overheat and become a fire hazard. Use no more than three standard-size sets of lights per single extension cord. Unplug lights before leaving the house or going to sleep. As an alternative to electric lights, try battery-powered candles.