Pumpkins were responsible for 41% of injuries in a 2017 report from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the vegetable is somewhat notorious this time of year amongst orthopedic surgeons.
“The most common Halloween injuries we see are severe hand injuries from pumpkin carving and leg and extremity injuries due to falls from long costumes and/or costumes that impair vision,” said orthopedic surgeon and American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons spokesperson Kevin G. Shea, MD.
"Interestingly, it's the fourth busiest holiday for hand injuries," says Dr. Sanj Kakar, a Mayo Clinic orthopedic hand and wrist surgeon. And most of them happen when people are carving pumpkins.
A lot of people might just go to the kitchen and grab a sharp knife, but Kakar refers to studies showing that pumpkin-specific carving knives are safer to use. “The force needed to injure yourself is higher if you use one of those than if you use a standard knife," says Kakar.
Steady the gourd with your non-cutting hand and start at the top of your design, cutting downward, to lessen the chance of an upward slip that could result in an injury.
In an effort to help you and those pumpkin-carving-loving members of your family (notice we didn’t necessarily say “kids”) avoid hand injuries, we’ve gathered up some tips for you:
Select a pumpkin with a stem, the greener the better. If a pumpkin has been sitting around, the stems will dry out and get brittle. Choose a pumpkin with a smooth surface, it will be easier to carve.
Do not cut your pumpkin’s opening in the top, leave the stem intact. Cut the opening in the bottom, or do as Marc Evan, co-founder of Brooklyn-based Maniac Pumpkin Carvers does — cut the hole in the back. Evan’s crew carves everything from corporate logos for Martha Stewart and the Yankees to replicas of Escher, Klimt, and Van Gogh paintings on as many as 400 pumpkins a season!
Plan, pattern, poke
Even the standard two triangles and a toothy grin will come out better if you use a pattern. Tape your pattern to the pumpkin and use a Pumpkin Masters poker (or a nail from your toolbox) to make a dot-to-dot pattern. If you have difficulty seeing the pattern after removing the paper, rub some flour onto the surface of the pumpkin, it will fill in the holes and show you the pattern.
Cut just sew
Using your carving tool, cut along your pattern lines with and up and down motion. When you come to a curve or a corner, lift the knife out and turn the pumpkin. Trying to turn the knife may cause it to snap. Think about a sewing motion’s motion — you don’t turn the machine, you turn the material.
Poke, don’t pull
Preserve your art by leaving all of the cut pieces intact until you have finished — resist the urge to pull out pieces as you go. When you are finished, reach inside and gently poke the pieces out. If a piece gets stuck, don’t force it, go back with your cutting tool and revisit the corners. If you do have a broken piece, secure it back to the pumpkin with a toothpick. You can rub the cut edges with a light coating of Vaseline to help keep them from drying out.
Light up the night
This tip has nothing to do with cutting but could help you avoid burns — by avoiding live candles in your pumpkin. Try Christmas lights, battery-operated dome lights, glow sticks, or even battery-operated votive or tea light candles.