Carving pumpkins and displaying them outside is as integral to Halloween as setting up scarecrows and picking out costumes. But the project is not without its pitfalls. While it's fun to pursue the time-honored practice of making your own jack-o'-lanterns in the fall, first it's best to learn some safety tips to ensure both a happy and healthy Halloween for all.
Initial Safety Precautions
Carving jack-o'-lanterns is a messy business as you scoop out all of the pumpkin pulp and seeds, so plan to work outside. Set up a temporary work station, such as an outdoor table covered in newspapers or planks across sawhorses, preferably on the lawn. Pumpkin pulp can be slippery on driveways, decks, and other similar surfaces, so working over grass is best for traction in case you drop some.
As you set up your work station, gather your supplies. For carving you'll need a marking tool to outline your design, thick gloves to protect your hands, a kitchen knife, a precision knife (such as the type by X-ACTO), and a garden trowel or large spoon to scoop out the pumpkin innards. Be mindful of your cutting tools at all times. Don't leave them lying around where children or pets could come across them and get hurt.
Before cutting, draw out the lines of the jack-o'-lantern pattern you want to create, as well as marks around the top to make the jack-o'-lantern's lid. Marking everything in advance should help you keep a steadier hand when cutting, as you'll have a guide to follow. To cut out the lid, hold your kitchen knife at a 45-degree angle. This will create a lid that is less likely to fall through the hole and into the pumpkin once it begins to dry out and lose mass. Work slowly and carefully with your knife, following your lines.
Then, remove the lid and set it aside in a safe spot. Proceed to remove the pulp and seeds from the pumpkin with your trowel or spoon. Set the innards aside in a container or bag, and make sure your hands are clean and not slippery from the pulp before you work on cutting your jack-o'-lantern design. For intricate parts of the design, use your precision knife to score the cuts. Then, use your kitchen knife—or even a flathead screwdriver—to punch out the pieces of pumpkin. Don't attempt to "saw" with your knife, as this can result in the knife slipping and causing an accident. Just use a series of careful jabs.
Illuminating Carved Pumpkins
Candles have been used traditionally to illuminate jack-o'-lanterns. But the open flame of a candle poses a fire hazard. If you still wish to use candles, it's necessary to take some safety precautions. Be thorough in your leaf removal efforts, so there is less flammable material around to catch fire. Never leave the jack-o'-lanterns unattended. And keep them out of the reach of trick-or-treaters, including out of the way of long, flowing costumes.
A safer option for illuminating jack-o'-lanterns is to use glow sticks, which can be bought at most party supply stores. With glow sticks, there are no flames, cords, or batteries to worry about, and they're waterproof.
Jack-o'-lanterns are often displayed near home entrances, but in doing so, they can unwittingly invite rodents and insects into the home, as these pests are drawn to the exposed soft inner flesh of the pumpkins. So it's best to place the jack-o'-lanterns several feet away from an entry point, and make sure any nearby cracks or gaps that could lead into your home are sealed.
Moreover, as carved pumpkins begin to rot or animals begin to eat them, the pieces could become a slip or trip hazard. Monitor your pumpkin daily, and get rid of it as soon as it's not looking its best anymore. You can throw it in the compost bin for quick and easy removal.