The best ways to pick, buy, carve and preserve your pumpkin for Halloween.

Dave Kruger sizes up a pumpkin that has a “windswept” look and thinks about how to turn it into a striking jack-o’-lantern.

The pumpkin in question has a stem that leans backward. Kruger suggests taking an ice pick or barbecue skewer to poke holes in it.

“Then take long-stem spaghetti and put it so it looks like the hair is blowing back,” Kruger says.

Designing and displaying jack-o’-lanterns, trick-or-treating and dressing up in disguise are all part of the Oct. 31 observation known as Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve, which is considered by many to be a kid-centric holiday.

As a kid, Kruger, 50, a Springfield, Ill. fire captain, always liked Halloween because he “thought it was a unique holiday.”

Known by many people as an expert pumpkin carver, Kruger learned how to carve pumpkins while growing up. He loved carving pumpkins so much that he didn’t pass up a carving opportunity. He says he’d even ask other kids, “Can I carve your pumpkin?”

“I was always kind of disappointed because you only had that one pumpkin,” says Kruger, who has four brothers and one sister. “Everybody got their own pumpkin and you got to carve your own pumpkin, and it was kind of a bummer when it’s done. It’s like baking one cupcake: OK. It’s over.”

Pumpkin carving is an opportunity to see kids at their creative best, says Kruger, who regrets how many holidays have become simplified. For example, how some families forgo decorating a Christmas tree in favor of an artificial tree.

“We as a society are streamlining everything, making everything quick. We don’t cook hotdogs over a fire anymore. We nuke them, or you can buy them already in a bun. You can zap them in the package,” Kruger says.

“Halloween is the one thing I think that’s kind of held the tradition. You still have the opportunity to carve. It’s still kind of down to its basic best.”

Expert pumpkin advice

As an adult, Kruger has continued carving pumpkins — hundreds of them — for the yearly Carve for the Carillon that prepares jack-o’-lanterns for the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular, which is in its sixth year and showcased more than 2,000 illuminated, hand-carved pumpkins as a fundraiser for the Rees Memorial Carillon.

 Kruger carved more than 200 pumpkins in his first year of carving for the event.

“I got to the point where I thought I was getting carpal tunnel (syndrome)… just from carving pumpkins. Then it became funny because every year I would go, and there’d be people who recognized me,” says Kruger, who carves freehand. He mostly does faces but he also carves designs and logos into pumpkins.

Kruger and PumpkinCarving101.com offer suggestions on how to pick, clean and carve free-hand pumpkins:

Buy a pumpkin

Decide before buying pumpkins what designs will be carved in them. Knowing that will help in creating a shopping list or mental idea of the shapes and sizes needed. Consider buying an unusual pumpkin. Pumpkins that have lines across the body because they sat on vines while growing can give jack-o’-lanterns character. Avoid pumpkins with decay spots, bruises, cuts or nicks on the skin. Select uniform orange pumpkins.  Avoid bruising a pumpkin during transport or in storage. Bruises shorten the pumpkin’s lifespan.

To clean a pumpkin

Cut out the top of the pumpkin around the stem. The size of the hole should be about two-thirds the diameter of the pumpkin. While cutting out the top hole, angle the knife so that the lid and hole will be somewhat “cone” shaped. This will help prevent the lid from falling into the hole. The cut can be a circle or a five- or six-sided opening. Scrape out the pumpkin by cutting into its meat and thinning the shell. “You don’t want to just scoop some of the seeds out because that stringy stuff is what starts to decay fastest,” Kruger said. A spoon with a sharp edge can be used to clean the pumpkin’s insides. Spray the inside with PAM no-stick cooking spray to slow down decay. Scrape the bottom of the pumpkin flat so that a candle placed inside can sit level. Jack-o’-lanterns can be illuminated with candles or votive candles placed in a clear glass candleholder, which is safer and helps the pumpkin last longer. Plain white candles give off the most light and will illuminate the inside of the jack-o’-lantern best.

Carve a pumpkin

Use sharp knives. Sharp knives give you clean cuts. Kruger uses fisherman’s filet knives and old kitchen knives that he keeps sharp.

“Sharp knives are only dangerous if you don’t know how to use them,” Kruger said. Dull knives can be dangerous because they require you to use more force.

Use kitchen gadgets, such as an apple corer and a melon baller. After removing the lid, cut a hole through it with an apple corer. The hole will serve as a vent that keeps candle heat from decaying the pumpkin’s interior. One of Kruger’s primary tools is a melon baller for cutting eyes.

“You can just hollow out an area on a pumpkin. It doesn’t have to go all the way through,” Kruger said. “I put marbles in there, and then as the pumpkin starts to dry out, that hole will open up in the back and the light will come through the hole, and you have that marble sitting there. You get some really neat effects with that.”

Set a large pumpkin with a large stem on its side so you can use the stem as a nose. “To clean it, you’d either cut the back side or cut the plate out of the bottom of it,” Kruger said.

Repair a broken stem with a toothpick. Put cooking oil on the exposed part of the stem area to soften it. Attach the broken piece with a toothpick. “It’ll absorb the moisture and it will actually swell back up, and you won’t even be able to see the crack in it,” Kruger says.

Use a knife to carefully cut out the individual parts of the face. You can use a crayon to draw the face onto the surface of the pumpkin and cut through the drawn lines, PumpkinCarving101.com suggests. When finished cutting, carefully push out the pieces to view the final results.

Preserve the pumpkin after making clean cuts. “When you’re done, spray your exposed edges with PAM and then take a rubber glove and wipe it on with a finger. Some people use Vaseline, but then that gets kind of gooey and messy,” Kruger says.

“The pumpkin will last three weeks and look relatively fresh for two weeks easy with PAM on it, especially if it’s cool out in the evenings. It’ll also keep bugs and stuff from getting in them and eating them.”