Updated: Aug 1, 2019
If you’ve made it this far, that means you’re ready to carve a pumpkin. All you need are the right pumpkin tools. But it turns out that there’s more to it than whittling away with a kitchen knife. How do you know which pumpkin tools are necessary and which are a waste of time and money? Don’t worry. I’ve got your back.
I’m sure you’ve seen row after row of tools for pumpkin carving at your local grocery or big box store. As early as August, you can often find these pumpkin carving kits sneaking their way onto shelves.
I secretly love listening to people’s reactions when they see the first ones pop up, by the way. I’ve heard absolute rage and utter excitement, and both really amuse me.
Usually, these kits consist of one or two saws, a scoop or two, and some pumpkin carving patterns. While I still use some of these, I tend to get snobbish about the tools I use. You can accomplish a lot with them, but it gets hard to really push the envelope without using a professional pumpkin carving kit. Let’s define what I mean by each category, and then compare the pros and cons of each set.
Pumpkin Carving Tools for Kids
Let’s be clear: I’m not judging you if you use the pumpkin carving set from the grocery store. Like I said, I still use some of them too. But they are typically made so that kids can use them without the parents worrying they will cut off a finger. And as any teenager knows, their safety factor significantly reduces their ability to do cool stuff.
These tools typically consist of small plastic-handled saws, plastic scoops, and some simple surface carving kits (which look like a shaving razor). They are usually cheap to buy, and bend or break fairly easily. This is especially true in the hands of an unruly child (or an excited pumpkin carver like myself). As such, take it easy or buy two kits if you plan on doing a few pumpkins.
I would only recommend these pumpkin tools if you plan on doing some family pumpkin carving with the kids. They are best used for simple pumpkin carving stencils or patterns, Jack o’ lanterns, or surface designs.
Professional Pumpkin Carving Tools
When you want to sculpt a 3D pumpkin face or do more intricate surface carvings, the basic tools just don’t cut it. Literally, they’re way too crude to do a good job. This is where the professional pumpkin tools shine. You’ll generally only find these pumpkin carving tools at art/craft stores or through special orders online. They are definitely worth the investment. But they are not for the younger crowd, as children could seriously injure themselves. Heck, I’ve cut myself using them!
These tools are much sturdier and include pumpkin carving knives (paring knife, X-acto knife, and specialty types), wood- or metal-handled clay ribbon loops, and fine-detail clay loops. Wood and clay tools are really critical for 3D faces, and are amazing pumpkin sculpting tools. Since pumpkin is far softer than wood and not as forgiving as clay, though, you’ll need to take it slowly at first until you learn how to use them.
I personally use an assortment of tools from different sources, but some of the best pumpkin carving tools I have purchased were from renowned pumpkin carver Ray Villafane’s collection. He’s an amazing pumpkin artist who I draw a lot of inspiration from. He even offers pumpkin carving tutorial DVDs to show you his techniques, and I highly recommend them!
Other Essential Tools
Besides these actual pumpkin carving tools, I always make sure I have a few other necessities on-hand and within reach.
Here’s a confession: I never cut out and use the stencils or patterns that come with the carving kits anymore. I definitely started that way, but found I was always just frustrated. Don’t you hate taping it to the pumpkin and etching the lines? Here’s a different way that you can try. I sketch designs on the pumpkin with a brown washable marker before cutting anything. You can use the pattern as your guide as you sketch. And if you mess up, you can simply wipe the design away with a wet paper towel and start over! More on that process in a future post…
When I’m sculpting a 3D pumpkin face, I always have either a mirror or my phone camera with me. Partially because I’m super vain, but also because referencing your own expressions makes the sculpting process so much easier. The human face is capable of some pretty wild looks, and using a mirror means I can capture each little wrinkle or muscle shape accurately. Plus people get a laugh out of watching me scowl at a mirror every 10 seconds when I’m carving at an event.
If you tackle especially large pumpkins, you’ll eventually find that even your best cutlery becomes dangerous to use. Instead of going Michael Myers on a pumpkin with a chef’s knife, I use various hand tools (drywall saws, hammers, chisels, gouges, etc.) to quickly and safely subdue the biggest ones. Some people even use power drills with bits meant for grinding or shaping wood. I don’t like these because you can quickly remove more material than you want to using more powerful pumpkin tools. But many people do use them effectively.
I really hope these pumpkin tool recommendations help you out. I have tried just about every one out there at this point, so I’m pretty familiar with what works and what doesn’t. If you have any questions or want to ask a related question, reach out to me. I’d love to help.