They make pumpkin carving magically easy.
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Many of us dream of creating an elaborately carved pumpkin for our neighbors to admire on Halloween night, but the second we start carving, we remember how difficult it is just to cut out a toothy grin. (Don't even get us started on pumpkin carving stencils.) To prevent your pumpkin carving ambitions from turning into Pinterest fails, we've rounded up 13 genius pumpkin carving hacks that will save you time, extend the life of your pumpkin, and keep all of your fingers intact.

Helpful tips and tricks like using an ice cream scoop to scrape out the pumpkin guts and playful ideas like sprinkling the lid of your pumpkin with cinnamon to make it smell like pumpkin spice (yes, seriously) will make pumpkin carving easier and much more fun. And if you need to learn how to carve a pumpkin in the first place, we can help with that, too.

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1 Use a dry-erase marker

Instead of using a permanent marker that makes it difficult to revise your design if you mess up or change your mind, sketch with a forgiving dry-erase marker. If you want to redo your pattern, simply wipe off the marker with a damp paper towel.

2 If you're using an artificial candle, cut a hole in the back (not top) of your pumpkin

Carving a hole in the back of your pumpkin leaves the front of your pumpkin intact and ready for your design. But if you're planning to use a real candle, you'll still need to cut a small hole in the top of your pumpkin to let the smoke escape.

3 If you're carving the top of your pumpkin, add a notch

If you're cutting off the top of your pumpkin, add a V-shaped notch so you'll always know which way the lid fits back on. Cutting at a slight angle and adding the notch will also prevent the lid from accidentally falling into the pumpkin.

4 Grab your ice cream scoop

Rather than gut your pumpkin with an ordinary spoon, use an ice cream scoop. Not only is this tool designed specifically for scooping, but the sharp edges are perfect for scraping the sides of your pumpkin if you want to thin them before carving.

5 Carve shapes with cookie cutters

If you're planning to carve basic shapes like stars, circles, or numbers, forget the paring knife and pull out your cookie cutter collection. Set your pumpkin on its side on a flat surface, then place your cookie cutter where you'd like it to go, making sure the sharp side is against the pumpkin. Holding the cutter securely in place with your fingers out of the way, tap the cutter with a rubber mallet until it goes all the way through the pumpkin.

Pumpkin carving hack: If you're carving a large pumpkin, it's a good idea to thin the walls of the pumpkin first so it's easier to punch out each shape.

6 Use a drill

If you want to create holes in your pumpkin of almost any size, the easiest method is to pull out your drill. Fit the drill with the size drill bit you'd like to use, hold your pumpkin steady on a flat surface, and carefully drill into the pumpkin. Be sure to wipe down and dry off your pumpkin before drilling so that stray pumpkin guts won't make the surface slippery.

7 Sprinkle with cinnamon

Lightly dust the top of the cut pumpkin lid with a very small amount of cinnamon, then blot off with a paper towel. Make sure there is no loose cinnamon inside the pumpkin (this can be flammable) before lighting a candle and replacing the lid. After a couple minutes, the room will smell like pumpkin spice.

8 Keep it fresh

After carving your pumpkin, rub petroleum jelly onto the carved areas. It will protect the surface and seal in moisture, preventing the pumpkin from getting dry and shriveled—because we all know how long carved pumpkins last, and what happens to them after that best-by date.

9 Use twinkle lights

As an alternative to an artificial candle, fill a glass jar with tiny battery-powered twinkle lights for a gentle glow.

10 Follow a pattern

If you're hoping to replicate a complicated design or pretty, swirling calligraphy, print out a template to follow. Tape the paper template onto the pumpkin and use a thumbtack to pierce small holes around the outline of the design.

Pumpkin carving hacks - etched pumpkin
Credit: Getty Images

11 Don't carve—etch

Etching pumpkins, the process of removing just the top layers of the pumpkin surface, is much easier than carving all the way through the flesh. Using a linocutter (the one we used is just $16), a tool that's typically used for carving linoleum tiles, you can easily carve intricate designs. Start by etching carefully around the outline of your design with a thin blade attachment, then switch to a thicker one to etch the center of your design. As you etch, hold your pumpkin steady and keep your hand out of the way of the blade.

12 Color your pumpkin with food dye

Once carved or etched, you can dye the exposed pumpkin flesh with liquid food dye diluted with a small amount of water. Simply brush it on with a paintbrush.

13 Fill a pumpkin vase with a grocery store bouquet

If you're turning your pumpkin into a vase, take a pre-arranged grocery store bouquet, hold the stems right below the flowers, and trim all of the stems at once to a length that fits the pumpkin. Place the shortened bouquet into your pumpkin and you'll look like a florist even if this is your first arrangement.