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How to Turn Your Plain Pumpkin into a Spooky Jack O'Lantern

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By Tom Barlow, dealnews contributor

The harvest moon is nigh, and the day when our streets will be taken over by zombies, vampires, and ghouls rapidly approaches. No, I'm not referring to Election Day; I'm talking about All Hallow's Eve. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spend more on Halloween than any other holiday except Christmas, for a projected $6.9 billion this year!

And though pumpkins may cost you double this year, the quintessential Halloween decoration is a hand-carved Jack O'Lantern. So if you're still going to spring for the orange, here are some tips to at least save some green while you create the best carved pumpkin ever.

Choosing Your Pumpkin
Look for a pumpkin that's firm and unblemished, and not overripe. Use your sense of smell, and tap lightly on the outside to detect any soft spots. Make sure to select a pumpkin with a "skull" that's large enough to fit your hand inside. A pumpkin at least a foot in diameter is good for carving.

Trepan Carefully
Yes, "to trepan" is the medical practice of drilling into one's skull, but it totally applies here too! You'll need to cut an access hole at the crown of a pumpkin, usually as a circular portal surrounding the stem. You can use a knife with a narrow, sharp blade like a deboning knife, but a really cool tool for this task is a proper pumpkin saw. Search for "65824" at Ace Hardware to find this handy electric Pumpkin Carving Power Saw with Batteries ($7.99 with free in-store pickup) that slices through the pulpy flesh like a hot knife through ectoplasm.

Scoop Out the Guts
To remove a pumpkin's gooey brains, you could use an everyday ice cream scoop. Or you could have more fun (and impress your kids) by putting your electric drill to the task. This Pumpkin Gutter Power Drill Attachment ($6.49 with free shipping until October 20) will whip the insides of your pumpkin into a porridge that you can pour out. And it's more than just cool; completely cleaning out the soft pulp will allow your Jack O'Lantern to last longer.

Plan Your Design
Freehanding your design without planning is a good way to end up with a carved pumpkin that looks more doofy than fearsome. If you want to do your own thing, perfect your design on a piece of paper and then tape it in place on your pumpkin. If you want a more precise face, then consider buying a stencil. Pumpkin stencils come in a range of complexities, from the most basic to very ornate. Pumpkin Pile, Pumpkin Masters, and Better Homes and Gardens offer downloads of various patterns for free, although you may have to play with enlarging them to best fit your pumpkin. For a bit of cash, the Pumpkin Carving Stencils Kit ($2.99 with about $5 s&h) has ghosts, goblins, monsters, and other leering faces.

True artists, however, understand that best-designed Jack O'Lanterns should practically leap off the porch and chase you down the street trying to drink your blood. For advanced pumpkin sculptors, The Extreme Pumpkin Carving Book from Overstock ($10.07 plus $2.95 s&h) or Barnes & Noble ($11.42 with free shipping on a $25 purchase) provides 20 amazing 3D designs for your will-o'-the-wisp to spook your neighbors' kids.

Prep the Pumpkin
If you're using a stencil, firmly secure it in place with Scotch Heavy Duty Tape ($6.14 with 97 cents s&h). Then take a sharp object and carefully trace over each line by poking a series of holes that are large enough to see when the paper is removed. When you remove the stencil, if the outline of holes is indistinct, you can rub the area with some flour or corn starch to make the lines stand out.

Carve Your Design
Pumpkin is a fragile medium for art, so you'll need to carve your design very carefully. A pumpkin saw — like the one listed above (search for "65824" to find it) — makes this task a little easier. If you don't have a proper pumpkin knife, a fillet knife, deboning knife, or drywall knife will work well. For those cuts where you don't slice all the way through the pumpkin, but simply thin the wall for a 3D effect, an X-ACTO knife — like the X-ACTO Rubberized Knife ($4.88 with free shipping) or X-ACTO General Purpose Retractable Knife ($1.88 with 97 cents s&h) — is the perfect tool. If you slip up, don't despair; you can repair your goofs with toothpicks.

Bring Your Creation to Life
Dr. Frankenstein used lightening to bring his creation to life, but yours won't need such dramatic and dangerous illumination. A candle or small LED lantern, like the 11-LED Adjustable Camping Light Lantern ($3.99 with free shipping), will light up your spooky gourd. For a more dynamic presentation, though, consider the pictured Halloween Pumpkin Light ($13.14 with free shipping), which features seven changing colored lights.


A well-carved Halloween pumpkin draws ghosts and goblins, Lady Gagas, and other strange creatures of the night. Be prepared with plenty of goodies to avoid the trick part of "Trick or Treat." And keep an eye on that carved head; I think it just winked at you.

Front photo credit: Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos
Photo credits top to bottom: Kam's World and Indigo Prime via Flickr


Tom Barlow formerly wrote for Aol's WalletPop and DailyFinance, and in addition to his dealnews contributions, he currently writes about lifestyle topics for Forbes.com. You can follow him on Twitter @tombarlow. You can also sign up for an email alert for all dealnews features.
Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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