How to Make Wooden Pumpkins in Ten Easy Steps with Rex Kenyon

It’s the time of year when the air turns crisp and the colors abound in nature to inspire ideas as the holiday spirit starts to come alive with creativity in woodshops everywhere.  When we think of Autumn, the aromatic flavors of fall fill the air with pumpkin pies, apple desserts, canning for the upcoming winter months, kids playing in leaf piles, bonfires and sawdust!  Fall festivals with homemade goods featuring crafts and hot apple cider begin to pop up in many communities.  Many types of woodworking projects can also be found, like these pumpkin creations by woodworker, turner and carver, Rex Kenyon.  We asked Rex to create two different style pumpkins, one for Halloween and one for Thanksgiving, and here is what he came up with.  You’ve got to take a serious close-up look at these pumpkins shown left to determine if they indeed are fruit or wood!  How did Rex make these come to life?  Let’s find out!

The goal of the first project is to create a pumpkin carving with Halloween and caricature features that would complement each other.  The second pumpkin would resembled a more standard form or traditional appeal for a Thanksgiving type decor.  This heavy grain wood selection was a consideration that would optimizethe formation of the pumpkin.  The wood needs to be carving friendly for use with small hand tools; basswood fulfilled both of these characteristics.

Step 1: Three inch basswood boards, ten inches wide were selected and planed to flatten, smooth and to make parallel surfaces for glue-up.

Step 2: The board was bandsaw cut into 3, 10 inch long pieces.

Step 3: Titebond III glue was used to secure the pieces of wood together and was clamped to provide uniform pressure across the face of the blocks.

Step 4: After the glue had dried completely both ends were marked to locate the centers for turning on the lathe with the grain running parallel to the bed of the lathe.

Step 5: A Sorby roughing gouge was used to get the block in a cylinder shape.  The height of the pumpkin (7 in) was marked on the cylinder so that there would be ample wood at the top of the pumpkin to form the stem.  Then a smaller gouge was used to turn the final shape of the rough form of the pumpkin.

Step 6: In determining what a pumpkin looks like, a trip to the farm market was in order.  The various shapes, sizes and colors were observed along with the number and depth of the ribs on the pumpkin that was the approximate size of the carving.  On the pumpkin model that was used (left) for the carving, there were 16 ribs randomly spaced.  To form the ribs, a Fordom with a quarter inch silver burr was used to cut the depth to 1/8th to 3/16 in depth.  A sanding tool was used on the Fordom to finish the rib and groove shape. At this point the Thanksgiving pumpkin was at the point of completion prior to finishing.  Now on to the caricature Halloween pumpkin carving!

Step 7: The first thing to determine is what person or caricature you want to carve. Then decide what features makes this caricature stand out; eyes, ears, nose, or some other physical feature that you want to accent.  Will it be happy, sad, serious, funny, or have some other unique feature.

The basic guidelines for Caricature carving are:

  • From the top of the head, the eyes go half way down the head and that locates the eyes.
  • Half way between the eyes and the bottom of the head is the tip of the nose.
  • Half way from the tip of the nose to the bottom of the head is the mouth.
  • The width of the head is 5 eyes wide.
  • The ears are placed half way from front to back and between the eyes and the mouth.
  • The body, including the head is four heads high, whereas the human body is six or seven depending if it is male of female.
  • The hands and feet are larger in size than a realistic hand or foot would be.

Any feature of the face can be enhanced but try to keep the facial features in the proper locations.

Rex taught us, “The place I start carving after the marking of the location of the features is the nose.  The nose extends beyond the face the width of one eye width from the surface of the face.  There are many different shapes so use the one that best describes the character of the subject.  After the nose, the eyes sockets are roughed out.  Next is the shaping of the chin and placing the mouth.  The mouth width is determined by placing the edge of the mouth at the center of each eye.  After all the features have been properly placed and roughed in then start refining the features starting with the nose and finishing with the eyes.”

The carving was put on the face of the pumpkin so that no glue lines would show in the carving.  The design of the carving was to follow in general, the human realistic rules with caricature interpretation.  The eyes, nose and hair have the human caricatures features.

Step 8: The stem was then rough carved and the pumpkin was sanded from the lowest to the higher sanding grits or 120 to 400. The final sanding was done after the carving was complete and the pumpkin was washed down with a mild soap and water to clean the surface and to raise the grain of the wood.

Step 9: This is important as a Transfast Powder Orange Water-Soluble Dye and General Finishes Enduro-Var Urethane Semi-Gloss was used.  The pumpkins have seven coats of finish on them, as the end grain sucked it up like a sponge.  Each of the pumpkins has about 8 board feet of basswood in them.

Step 10: Show em’ off! Both pumpkins are ready for the Fall holiday decorating season!

About the Artisans, Rex & Beth Kenyon

Rex started carving about 20 years ago when he took some classes at Woodcraft in Columbus Ohio.  Since then he has taken several classes with carvers who were members of the Caricature Carvers of America.  Rex tells us, “I like caricature carving as it allows a lot of freedom to interpret the subject and accent the obvious. Generally I select a subject then interpret the subject matter, then find the wood that best expresses the subject.  Often the carving is modified to take advantage of the wood’s grain or texture.  Also it is important to determine the finish that will be placed on the piece.”

Rex, currently Mayor of Beverly Ohio, is married to Beth, an exceptionally talented woodworker.  She has won several national woodworking competitions.  They often take vacations together and attend woodworking, carving and turning classes.  Pictured above is Rex and Beth in their kitchen, which Beth designed and built including the island where the pumpkins are placed.

We thank Rex and Beth for being long time patrons of Woodcraft, both in Columbus Ohio, and Parkersburg, WV.  Thanks very much to Rex for his outstanding artisan craftsmanship, taking the time to carve these pumpkins, and sharing his story with us!

One thing is certain. These wooden turned and carved pumpkins will last for a lifetime of holiday enjoyment. You cannot say that about fruit pumpkins!
What’s coming to life in your woodshop pumpkin patch?
auf Wiedersehen!…Frank

We hope you are inspired to create something today!

Stay safe in your shops!
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