Carved pumpkins, also known as  Jack O' Lanterns are a traditional Halloween decoration  - the custom originated in the UK and Ireland back in the 1800s when many types of vegetable were cut  into lanterns around harvest time.

Carving a Jack O'Lantern takes perseverance more than it takes skill  - here are a few step by step pointers to carving your own Halloween pumpkin.

If you prefer to learn visually, scroll to the end of 
this page for the pumpkin carving video tutorial

Decide on a design - This will give you an idea of the size and shape of the pumpkin you'll need to buy - browse our pumpkin carving template designs and print a couple of your favourites.

Gather your tools - For a standard eyes, nose and mouth design made of triangular shapes, you can carve your pumpkin  with  knives you already have in your kitchen. However, more complex designs require extra tools  and extra time.  For example the Dremel Pumpkin carving kit makes carving intricate pumpkin designs as easy as tracing drawings.

Pick your pumpkin - Choose a  fresh pumpkin in a shape that pleases you. Some folks prefer their pumpkins low and round, while others like them tall and oval-shaped.  Pick one without bruising, nicks and cuts and ensure that it is ripe too. Tug the stem and push in the area around it with your finger. If this area feels soft or if the stem pulls away, the pumpkin has begun to rot - so choose another.If possible, choose a pumpkin with a long stem as this will become the 'handle' to the 'lid'.

Prepare your pumpkins - Once you get your pumpkin home, use a damp cloth to remove any dirt from the surface and pat it dry.

Get to work - Working on a flat surface protected by a thick layer of newspaper, draw a circle  on top of the pumpkin to make  an opening large enough for your hand to reach through. Using your hand and / or a  large spoon, remove all the filling and seeds  - the more your remove, the better. 

Save the seeds - Wash the seeds and soak them overnight in salty water - next, put them in the oven on 350F for 15 minutes for a tasty snack. 

Draw the design - Using dry eraser / whiteboard - markers (because  they're easy to wipe off and start again if you mess up) draw your design on the pumpkin.

Use a template - Alternatively, use one of the Jack O'Lantern patterns on this site. Simply print the design and tape the paper  to the front of the pumpkin. If your pumpkin is not smooth, wet the paper with oil (not water) and 'stick' it onto the pumpkin - the ink will run somewhat (but not as much as it would with water) and  you'll still be able to see the design.

Mark it out - Using a nail  or a tack, poke holes though the paper  and into the pumpkin.  If you buy a pumpkin carving kit they oftem include a 'perforater' wheel-like tool which speeds up the  process no end.  Follow the outline with the nail  and space the marks half a centimetre apart ( or less so if the design is intrictate). When you take the paper away you'll see rows of holes that are your cutting guides.   

Carve - Using a sharp knife, carving tool, or a dremel tool, carve your design. Remember that on the templates black is what you cut out and white is pumpkin. Push the cut-out pieces gently from the inside out -  and discard the pieces.

- When the sun sets, place a candle or a battery operated  LED light  inside the carved pumpkin and watch it glow
. Leave your carved pumpkin outside in the cool air because doing this 'refrigerates' it and extends the life of the pumpkin.

For those of you who prefer to learn things visually here is a  'How to carve a pumpkin' video which tells you everything you need to know about carving a pumpkin using a stencil or template.

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