Pumpkin-Carving Tips From the Pros

Here are the tools and simple techniques you need to have the most amazing jack-o'-lantern on the block this Halloween.
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A knife is not the best tool for carving a pumpkin. So what works? I spoke with America's king and queen of carving, Tom Nardone, author of Extreme Pumpkins and Extreme Pumpkins II, and Lisa "The Pumpkin Lady" Berberette, for the inside scoop on America's favorite backyard craft.

Both experts agree that the knife is the wrong tool to create a jack-o'-lantern. Though convenient, knives are clunky and awkward, which makes them dangerous. Plus, says Berberette, "If you're a father, you don't want to look stupid carving a pumpkin in front of your 4 year old."

That fear of looking incompetent in front of the kids may explain why Berberette's site,


, attracts several million visitors in the month of October. She gives away free pumpkin stencils, as well as step-by-step directions for carving.

Berberette favors a simple pumpkin-carving kit, the kind that you can find at


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, or your local drug store. "After all these years, I still use the

Pumpkin Masters

carving saws," says Berberette. But after a recent guest appearance on The Martha Stewart Show


, she's considering a switch to Stewart's carving tools, available at


. "They have better handles, and their blades are better," Berberette says.

Nardone prefers power tools for pumpkin sculpting, because, "That's what I've got. Since I've got 'em, I use 'em." His site,


, is dedicated to those who carve a bit more assertively.

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To those for whom money is no object, Nardone recommends a cordless set of power tools for pumpkin carving. "You want to buy a cordless tool set, the kind where they all use the same battery pack; a jig saw, a reciprocating saw, a drill and an angle grinder. For $1,000 dollars, you could look like a carpenter." Nardone is even angling for a sponsorship from toolmaking company DeWalt.

Both Nardone and Berberette love Dremel drills, small drills that work well for fine details, like eyeballs and teeth. "The Dremel stylus fits in your hand better," says Nardone, "It's almost like you're writing with a pen when you carve."

Berberette chooses the Dremel when she uses foam pumpkins, or Funkins, that extend the shelf life of her sculptures. "When I use the foam pumpkins, I can't live without my Dremel. I use a utility knife, an exacto blade to help outline, and tons of different bits."

In addition to tool recommendations, Nardone and Berberette offer additional tips for carving enthusiasts:

  • Nardone suggests that you resist the urge to make a perfectly circular lid for the pumpkin, or else you'll be going around in circles trying to fit the thing back on. "Give it a little jog, or make a kidney shape so you know how it fits."
  • When using a pattern -- which can be downloaded for free on www.pumpkinlady.com -- Berberette pokes dots through the stencil to transfer the pattern to the pumpkin. Then she dusts the pumpkin with flour, to make the dots more evident.
  • Nardone prefers a dry-erase marker, as he draws directly on the pumpkin before carving. He finds the marker wipes off easily.
  • Prior to carving, and after de-gooping, Berberette places small pumpkin lights inside the pumpkin. Although these used to be more expensive, Berberette says that these days they can be purchased for a couple of dollars at Wal-Mart, or a local drug store.
  • This season, Nardone conducted a study to determine the best pumpkin preservatives. He concluded that household cleaning products with bleach (Tilex, Clorox Clean Up) is best for keeping squirrels, bugs and mold away. Hair spray comes in second. Berberette avoids commercial preservative sprays, explaining, "It doesn't matter what you preserve it with; it's food, it will rot."
  • Nardone likes to roast pumpkin seeds, and has a few rules for doing it right:
    -- Don't rinse the seeds; they taste better if you don't.
    -- Separate the seeds from the goop, but don't go crazy getting every last seed. Recognize the point of diminishing returns and move on.
    -- Roast seeds at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes, stir, then roast another 10 minutes until they're done. They'll be golden on the edges.
    -- Don't roast with fat (oil). If you do, you'll have to refrigerate the roasted seeds so they don't spoil.

George Washington

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