Q+A: Take your lantern carving to the next level with these tips from master pumpkin sculptor David Billings.

What are your favorite tools?

Depends on what part of the pumpkin you are carving.  All the straight lines are cut with the paring knife and used a few pottery tools—2 wire-band carving pottery tools (GETPIC)

A fine set of woodcarving tools but very expensive.


Knives don’t have to be sharp b/c soft flesh. Parents be there with your kids.

Safety: carve away from yourself and if you are holding the pumpkin carve away from your hand. Some parts harder than others so need some force but go slow.

Tools of the trade – what you need


No specific tools made. One of my key tools is a paring knife. Shaped, can hold it like a pencil and it allows stability to carve lines. Larger pumpkins use wood-carving tools, small v-shaped chisels, pottery tools “loop-style” has a loop.

Kits are available and most have hand saws that cut directly thru the pumpkin. Good for carving with stencils.

3D  carving use pottery tools so you can carve sections out without going completely thru the flesh of the pumpkin

What you likely have already in the kitchen?

Melon baller like a scoop, grater peels some pumpkin back—not grating the material off, pull it down and pull it back up so it looks like hair.

 How long do pumpkins last? Preserving trick?

No proven way to preserve, they are a veg so rot faster in heat. Cool will last longer. Most of us experience in fall they last longer outside but warm climate last 3-14 days depending on the pumpkin and temp. We did a large exhibition at Metropolis in Metrotown in 2010 and as the project went along a few had to discard.

 People try to sell products sprays lacquers but nothing is foolproof.

 What do you do with the seeds?

AG and others are good to cook. And replant to grow your own pumpkins. Techniques to doing it but lots of tips online. AG grower was Howard Dill famous pumpkin grower in NS, but family still runs business and buy seeds from the family. I’ve been to his farm and most are 500-600 pounds.



What is your #1 tip for the beginner—stencils, freehand, recommend drawing the design on the pumpkin first or better to go freehand?

I draw with a jiffy marker or sharpy –thinner line I don’t want to see the ink. You can buy stencils free online or buy sets at craft stores. I research online for inspiration and find interesting sculptures google “halloween masks” to cfreate scary monsters. If you are looking for something Walt Disney, google Disney characters, haunted houses eg.

 Stencils are a different style. You are carving thru the flesh so light inside will illuminate what you have carved, much like a jackolantern so you get specific shadows. With freehand, you aren’t necessarily cutting every line right thru so you get the 3D effect and the light inside will enhance the structure of the carving you have done.

 On my website I have the face carved then I remove a block out of the back and I clean out the pumpkin seeds and inside material. Carving is done and I find areas do a reverse carving on the inside so more light comes thru in some areas. E,g the eyes are thinner from the inside so you get more glow, same with mouth.

Use a light not a candle for this kind of carving b/c completely enclosed. 40 watt bulb

 Cut a panel in the back and clean out, reverse carving, put the light in and replace the panel. And light it up!