Carving dried gourds is almost a lost tradition with all of the new inflatables, illuminated signs and audible creatures that haunt today’s porches and landscaping.
As you stroll through your neighborhood, aren’t you amazed by your neighbor’s Halloween decorations? Traditional ghosts and goblins have gone hi tech.
Simple ghosts suspended from trees? No way! Today’s haunted graveyards feature spirits which light up, move, and wail at any and all unsuspecting visitors. Frankenstein and Dracula can no longer be seen perched on chairs on front porches. They now wave from a giant inflated snow globe, and become even scarier when deflated, appearing much like the Wicked Witch of the West in her final scene in the Wizard of Oz.
Every year it seems that the new decorations are larger and more elaborate. They add fun and excitement to the neighborhood during the Halloween celebrations, but I must admit I also enjoy the more traditional Halloween décor.
Shari and I have created many spooky accessories over the years, but that old stand-by, the jack-o-lantern, is still one of our favorites. We enjoy creating new pumpkin faces every year, and I love drying and roasting the pumpkin seeds when we finish our carving project.
There is one problem with pumpkin carving, however. My jack-o-lanterns rarely last until Halloween. Several seemed to cave in a few days after they were carved, but the real problem is the squirrels who find pumpkin a delicacy. That’s one reason I was intrigued by a friend’s collection of Halloween gourds. My pumpkin jack-o-lanterns rarely last more than a week, while my friend’s hard shelled gourd jack-o-lanterns can last a lifetime. Right then and there, I decided to try my hand at the art of gourd carving.
First, I needed to do some research. I found that there are two types of gourds particularly well suited for Halloween carving. Bushel gourds are similar to pumpkins in both size and shape, and make great traditional jack-o-lanterns. Birdhouse gourds and bottle gourds also can be used for Halloween projects. The bottom of these gourds can be carved with jack-o-lantern faces, while the overall shape also makes them perfect for ghost gourds.
If you’d like to grow your own gourds, you’ll have to order the seeds now, as they are difficult to find in the spring. Like pumpkins, the gourds require water and fertilizer during the summer months. They also require a large garden since the vines can grow to fifty feet or more. As I’m sure you know, gourds are harvested in the fall. They should then be placed on pallets and dried in the sun for a week or two. Next, they should be moved to a warm dry space indoors. Drying can take from several weeks to several months, depending on the size of the gourds. If the seeds rattle as you shake the gourd, it is ready to carve.
Now I’m not much of a gardener, so when I decided to try my hand at gourd carving, I went to an outdoor fall festival and bought several dried gourds. Once you have the gourds, the rest is easy!
1. I noticed that the gourds I bought were a bit moldy, so I started my project by scrubbing the gourds with a bleach-water solution.
2. Once the surface had dried, I sanded the gourds lightly with a fine grit sandpaper to remove any imperfections.
3. Using a pencil, I traced out a face.
4. Then, as I used my drill to create several pilot holes to make cutting easier, I made a terrible discovery: the insides of dried gourds REALLY STINK! I immediately grabbed a safety mask!
5. I placed a dowel rod through one of the pilot holes, and removed the dried seeds and pulp. I then used my craft knife to cut out the eyes, nose, and mouth.
6. To finish and preserve the gourd, I stained the exterior with wood stain. The first coat left the surface somewhat blotchy, so I used a second coat. I then applied several coats of polyurethane.
I really enjoyed this project, so much in fact that I think I will try a more complicated Halloween design again next year. My carved gourds will make a great display, one that will easily compete with my neighbor’s inflatable Frankenstein snow globe!
*Found these hand carved gourds at
Studio 77 in Myrtle Beach!