The secret to the perfect jack-o-lantern


Tired of jack-o-lanterns that look like a preschooler attacked them with a butter knife?

The secret to nice jack-o-lanterns is mainly in the tools, said Sarah Gregga, who with her family carves six to eight large pumpkins and several smaller ones to line their Beavercreek Township driveway with an annual themed display. (Last year’s theme was Disney princesses; this year’s will be Tim Burton movies.)

We asked Gregga to demonstrate and explain the proper carving technique. We also consulted Judy Chaffin, organizer of the annual Stoddard Avenue Pumpkin Glow, which features over 650 lit-up, carved pumpkins at dusk each Oct. 30 and 31 in the Grafton Hill Historic District of Dayton. [How to go to the Pumpkin Glow]

Here are their tips for creating the perfect jack-o-lantern:

1. Use the right tools. The long, straight-edged chef’s knife that most people think of for carving pumpkins is actually the worst choice, said Gregga, who holds a bachelor’s degree in interior design and works in the custom framing shop at Michael’s in Beavercreek.

Small, serrated knives are key for precision, she said, noting it’s worth the $5 you pay for a kit of pumpkin-carving knives. She supplements with tiny tools for working with ceramic clay, especially a metal awl tool for poking holes.

2. Use the right pumpkin. Gregga recommends a pumpkin that has a flattish surface on one side and shallow ridges.

Chaffin suggested using a pumpkin that isn’t too thick.

“The big, round, orange ones are generally thick,” she said. “Look for the ones that are tall and pale orange. They’re usually a little softer and thinner.”

And don’t buy or carve them too early, Gregga warned, or they’ll rot before Halloween.

3. Choose your pattern. Pattern books often accompany pumpkin-carving tool sets. Or go online to a site like zombiepumpkins.com. Some pattern websites are free; some charge a nominal fee. On zombiepumpkins.com, patterns are grouped according to ability level: beginner, apprentice, enthusiast, veteran and maniac. Gregga is going to attempt her first maniac pattern this year – an intricate, scalloped Cheshire Cat face. [Free, printable pumpkin patterns]

For us, however, she demonstrated a beginner pattern that any carver could master.

4. Cut the lid and scoop out. Or if you’re Chaffin, you might cut the bottom off the pumpkin instead. Pumpkin Glow carvers tried a few like that last year, and they stayed upright more easily.

Use the plastic scraper that comes with the carving tool kit to scrape the stringy stuff from the inner walls.

5. Transfer the pattern. Tape the pattern snugly to the pumpkin and use a pointy awl tool to poke little holes all along the lines of the paper pattern.

After removing the paper, rub the pumpkin with flour to make the pattern holes easier to see, Chaffin suggested.

6. Cut. Use a small, serrated knife and “saw with an in-and-out motion” where you poked the holes, Gregga said.

7. Light up. Gregga puts a tea light inside a jar to protect the flame from wind and the pumpkin from melting wax. Some people, she said, use small strands of Christmas lights inside their pumpkins; they just have to carve a small hole in the back of the pumpkin for the cord to poke through.

An alternative: Go ceramic

Or if you don’t want to fuss over something that will rot, visit The Splattered Platter in Middletown, where you can order — or make for yourself — a custom-carved ceramic pumpkin. Already this fall, owner Lisa Little has made 268 ceramic jack-o-lanterns for mail orders.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Home Garden

Medical debt relief is coming
Medical debt relief is coming

After more than two years of delays, new rules granting consumers some relief from the harm medical debt can do to their credit will finally go into effect. Beginning Sept. 15, the three main credit bureaus will enact rules they agreed to back in 2015 that require them to provide a 180-day cooling off period before any medical debt goes onto a credit...
50 local restaurants serving up a week’s worth of special deals next week
50 local restaurants serving up a week’s worth of special deals next week

Get your forks ready. The Summer Restaurant Week promotion runs July 23-30 offering meals from nearly 50 restaurants across the Dayton area ranging in price from $20.17-$30.17. The restaurant week promotion was established more than a decade ago as a way to generate interest traffic to local restaurants and help give diners a chance to explore the...
Today’s heroic movies raise lots of super questions
Today’s heroic movies raise lots of super questions

First off, I don’t understand why people call him “Spidey.” They don’t call Superman “Supey.” Or Batman “Batty.” And yet just about everybody, up to and including a headline in The New York Times about the latest Spider-Man movie, referred to the adolescent superhero as “Spidey.” Leaving aside...
Envelopes can fix your budget

There are so many people who’ve tried every budgeting tip and trick in the book but still can’t seem to figure out how to handle their money by themselves. It’s just not a natural tendency for most people. If you’re in this situation and maybe have been for a while, there’s a “scared straight” kind of technique...
4 breathtaking waterfalls near Dayton you must visit this summer
4 breathtaking waterfalls near Dayton you must visit this summer

Everyone knows TLC’s famous words of advice, “Don’t go chasing waterfalls.” But we think it’s in your best interest to do exactly the opposite.  Summer is the perfect time to do a little waterfall adventuring to cool off and unwind.  Perhaps surprising to many people even from the Dayton-area, there are...
More Stories