Friday, October 30, 2020

Tips, tricks and tools for the perfect jack-o’-lantern this Halloween

By Lorraine Glowczak

Ghosts made of white linen floating from trees and plastic skeletons rattling on the front door are favorite Halloween decorations used and loved by many. But there is only one classic and steadfast decorating tradition; the toothy grin of a blazing jack-o’-lantern sitting on the front porch to frighten ghouls and goblins.

Whether you desire to sculpt a jack-o’-lantern that would land on the cover of “Martha Stewart Living Magazine” or prefer the more conventional triangle face, there are many tips, tricks and tools that professionals use to make the pumpkin carving adventure fun and successful.

No matter your preference, all perfect jack-o'-lanterns must begin with the perfect pumpkin. 

For those who want to go the extra mile and be
the envy of the neighborhood, try a 3D carving
like this jack-o'-lantern created by Maurice
'Mo' Auger, a master pumpkin carver from
Writer Laura Pucillo, who interviewed many professional pumpkin carvers suggests the following when buying the famous orange fruit (yes, botanically speaking, a pumpkin is a fruit. It is also not considered a gourd).

Pumpkins to avoid

1)      Avoid those with soft spots and cuts. Pucillo said these blemishes are tell-tale signs that the pumpkin is starting to rot. She recommends making sure the pumpkin you pick is firm all over.

2)      She also warns against purchasing pumpkins with green patches or brown spots. This indicates the fruit is either under- or over-ripe.

3)      Avoid frost-bitten pumpkins. Pucillo states that cold weather damages flesh and skin, making the pumpkin rot faster and giving it a mushy texture.

4)      Pucillo advises checking out the stem. The size and strength of the stem are good signs of a strong, healthy fruit. She recommends choosing one with a stem that is at least two inches wide and are green.

Cut the pumpkin from the bottom

What may surprise the amateur pumpkin carver is that most professionals recommend cutting and opening the pumpkin from the bottom and not the top.

“This prevents the sides from caving in, which happens more frequently and quickly when a pumpkin is opened and cut from the top,” said Maurice “Mo” Auger, a Master Pumpkin 3D Carving Professional from Alfred, Maine. “Also, cutting the pumpkin from the bottom makes it much easier to scrap out the pulp and seeds. It also provides a straightforward way to place a candle or light inside the pumpkin because all you have to do is lift it up and place the candle in the center.”

Tools of the trade – from simple to complex

Most pumpkin carving professionals recommend using the easy and inexpensive carving tools that can be purchased at the local drug or discount store. But for those who want to give their jack-o’-lanterns a little extra pizzazz, consider using the following tools to let your Halloween creativity flow.


Cookie cutters - With a little help of a small hammer or rubber mallet, a cookie cutter can provide a non-traditional sharp outline. Pull out the star shaped cookie cutters from Christmas, or better yet, purchase Halloween cookie cutters such as a witch’s hat, a scary cat or a flying bat and pound away gently to create a unique jack-o’- lantern motif.


Electric drill - If you are going for polka dot inspired words such as “Boo” or “Haunted” – or you want to create a “starry night” with an extra special scary design, an electric drill is a perfect and easy tool to “carve” a pumpkin. Use different sized drill bits and come up with your own unique image and design.    

COMPLEX – 3D Carvings

Pottery tools – For those who want to go the extra mile and be the envy of the neighborhood, there are at least 10 to 15 pottery tools from your local arts and craft store that one can consider. Auger has narrowed it down to his favorites.

“I use only three pottery tools,” said Auger, who carves 300 to 900-pound pumpkins into a 3D image. “I use the wide blade tools to skin the pumpkin, the small blade tool for the outline, and the shaping tool to provide depth and allow the light to shine through in various ways.”

Auger, a former art teacher, works with children across Maine and New Hampshire on some of his pumpkin projects, so he chooses these three tools for safety and he said they are perfect for the family pumpkin task.

Auger also said that if the big 3D carving is what you are going for, the regular field pumpkin is not your best bet, but at least a 200 pound or more is what you will need to purchase. As for the design, he lets the pumpkin speak to him.

“I see the design in the shape of the pumpkin, and it dictates the carving that is created,” Auger said.

Auger also offers the following advice for those who wish to take pumpkin carving to the next level:

1)      If using a 200 pound or larger pumpkin, cut the fruit from the back instead of the bottom. Once you scrap the pulp and seeds away the best you can – be sure to look for faults and cracks in the pumpkin. This will determine if there will be any problems in the carving process. It will also help to establish how thick the skin is and will help determine the design.

2)      Fire needs oxygen to burn. If your candle won’t stay lit, you probably need more airflow. This is especially a problem if you cut your pumpkin from the bottom. Auger advises poking small holes on top to allow the oxygen to rise and holes in the back to allow oxygen to flow. This works best for the smaller field pumpkins.

3)      For larger pumpkins, Auger uses garden-sized flood lights to give the eerie glow he is after.

4)      The white pumpkin typically provides the thinnest skin and thus the easiest to carve.

Whether it is a new family tradition or one that has been a family Halloween custom for years, may this year’s pumpkin carving adventure be full of fun and success – and just spooky enough to scare the ghosts and goblins away.

For more information on 3D carving, visit Mo Auger’s website at

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