5 tips for how to carve a pumpkin safely

Young girl carving a pumpkin with her family

Pumpkin carving at Halloween is a beloved tradition for many families. While it is a fun activity, it can become dangerous in seconds if not done safely. Hand surgeons know this all too well.

The orthopedic specialists on our hand and upper extremity team see numerous injuries each year as a result of poor pumpkin-carving techniques, wrong carving tools and less-than-ideal surfaces for pumpkin carving. Here are five safety tips to keep you out of trouble – and out of the emergency department.

1 Always cut a pumpkin away from your hand

While it seems obvious, the simplest way to avoid injuring your hand is to always cut away from your fingers and palm. People often start carving safely, but as the activity goes on, they begin to sacrifice safe technique in order to carve quickly or make a difficult cut.

Knives are bound to slip from time to time, and if your hand or fingers are in their path, you are at risk for potentially severe injuries.

Rotate the pumpkin or change the way your other hand is steadying the pumpkin, and you’ll stay safe.

2 Sharp or dull, all knives are dangerous pumpkin-carving tools

The old adage that dull knives are more dangerous because they take more force to cut is not always true. While you can certainly sustain lacerations or puncture wounds with a dull knife after forcing it through the pumpkin’s skin, sharp knives can easily cut through your skin, muscles, tendons and nerves in the blink of an eye. Be particularly careful when a sharp knife becomes tightly wedged in the pumpkin. Pulling the knife out too quickly or in the direction of your hand can lead to injury. Also make sure the surface on which you’re carving is sturdy, level and at a comfortable height for you to use for carving.

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3 Clean your hands as you go

We all know the way our hands feel after scooping out the seeds of a pumpkin — slimy and slippery. Grasping a knife with slippery hands is a recipe for disaster. Clean and dry your hands frequently while carving to avoid mishaps that could lead to hand injuries.

4 Leave pumpkin carving to the adults

While kids love to help, explain to them before you begin that only adults use the knives. And when an adult is using a knife, children shouldn’t be holding the pumpkin. Instead, let the kiddos decorate the pumpkins with stickers or use markers to draw the design that you’ll cut out. They can have just as much fun without putting their hands at risk.

5 Seek medical attention ASAP

If you are unfortunate enough get cut while carving, seek medical attention urgently. Deep wounds often require a thorough cleaning by a medical professional as well as prescribed antibiotics. A cut may appear to be simple, but a deep wound can often damage nerves, tendons and blood vessels. In short, don’t waste time, seek care right away.

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