Monday, October 22, 2012

Pumpkin carving 103: carving tools

Why hello there.

When last we spoke of pumpkin carving, I showed you some great places to get stencils and pumpkin patterns.  Please don't forget that with imagination and free online photo software you can make your own stencils...

Today, the tools.  Just like carving stamps, if you don't have the right tool for the job you're not going to have a well carved jack.

I've already posted about my love for the Pumpkin Masters saws for carving fake plastic pumpkins.  They're the best I have found, though not perfect.  I actually dislike the hexagonal handle because it's small and makes my hand cramp up after a lot of carving, and I think the blade could be stronger - and smaller - still.  But they're the current best in my saw arsenal, so you should definitely check them out.

Above, you'll see the things I used to carve a thanksgiving pumpkin a couple weeks ago.  Clockwise from the top left, you'll see a nice cornucopia stencil I got from the good folks over at Jammin Pumpkins , a pumpkin (important!), tacks, the plastic pumpkin saw from Pumpkin Masters I told you about above, a metal awl - about 1.5 mm diameter, a melon baller, a pumpkin scoop, and baby powder (note: not a horrible typo).

The lowdown on my tools:

The scoops: I use both the shallow scoops - ones that typically come with carving kits - to do the basic grunt work and then go back in with the melon baller to really shave down the side of the pumpkin that is going to be carved and get a nice smooth surface on the inside.

Tacks: I see some sites recommend taping the stencil down.  Don't do this, it will only cause misery when dust or liquid on the pumpkin makes the pattern come loose mid-transfer.  Use plenty of tacks to tack the stencil down and you'll be much happier with the result.

The saw: I really only use the one saw.  It's really sturdy - the end tapers to a point so that I can use the tip shallowly if I have a really tight curve.

The poker: transfers are the most important think for carving both stamps and pumpkins.  It doesn't matter how nice the stencil is or how good a carver you are if that nice stencil isn't properly transferred for you to apply your skills to.  You always want to use something that your hand will feel comfortable with that tires your hand out the least - because let's face it, unless someone comes up with a great transfer method that doesn't involve a poke through, you are going to have some hand soreness after doing a decent transfer.

Baby powder: basic problem with the poking through technique for pumpkin stencils: pumpkins or orange, pokes in pumpkin are only a slightly different shade of orange.  Solution? Dust transfer with baby powder and rub it in - the white fills all the little holes and instantly your design is highlighted.  As you carve through all the holes, baby powder disappears.  Any remaining residual powder on the surface is easily removed with a cloth.

Here are some of the tools in my box that have been aquired over any number of years that I don't use - and don't recommend you do either.

The three saws you see on the left are pretty typical for the beginner sets, but are pretty much useless for anything other than the basic smiling jack.  I guess a bonus is that a small child would have a pretty hard time hurting themselves or others with them, but otherwise they are useless for doing detailed jacks.

The five pokers you see on the right can do the job, other than the little wheeled one and the circular array which you should just through in the recycling, but rest are all so small (about the length of my thumb) that any sort of detailed transfer is going to have your hand hurting like crazy before you ever get to the carving portion.  Skip them and use a bigger awl or similar tool and avoid the pain.

Next up: picking the perfect pumpkin for your carve!

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