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Pumpkin Masters founder gets crafty

Racine native Vardeen releases deluxe carving set

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Pumpkin masters

Racine native John Bardeen, founder of Pumpkin Masters carving kits, sold that company in 1997 but has come out of retirement to start a new company with a high-end pumpkin carving set called Grampa Bardeen’s Family Pumpkin Carving Set. Shown here are jack-o’-lanterns made from designs included in the kit.

Racine native John Bardeen, whose Pumpkin Masters sets started taking the kitchen knife out of family pumpkin carving in the mid-1980s, is at it again. 

Not content to sit idle in retirement, Bardeen — who founded and later sold Pumpkin Masters — has introduced a deluxe, heirloom pumpkin carving kit.

Grampa Bardeen’s Family Pumpkin Carving Set, introduced in late August, employs the same techniques used by the Bardeen children carving stars in the neighborhood each Halloween.

But the new kit, which includes 18 tools and Teflon-coated saws, offers a vastly superior kit for creating devilish or delightful designs.

As far back as Bardeen, 67, of Denver, can remember, his family’s intricate jack-o’-lanterns shined because of the ingenuity of their father, the late Paul Bardeen.

“Dad developed the method when I was growing up,” the Park High School alumnus said Monday. To mark a pattern onto a pumpkin, Paul stuck a nail in a dowel, and his children would punch lines of holes with the improvised tool to map out their design. He would insert broken coping saw blades into dowels to create unique, safe saws that could turn on a BB.

“That’s how I learned: We would saw dot to dot,” Bardeen said.

“Dad died in ‘83, and we decided we would do something to honor him.” With some sisterly help, he founded Pumpkin Masters in 1985. Each kit came with a small carving kit and a book of designs that could be taped onto, then marked onto, a pumpkin. The kits, with new designs each year, became widely available in the mass market.

Seeking better quality

After selling the company, Bardeen might have stayed retired. However, he said, “In recent years my friends and sisters had been complaining to me about the state of pumpkin-carving kits” with their flimsier, Chinese-made blades.

In early 2012, Bardeen decided to create a high-quality, easy-to-store kit with long-lasting tools. Just as they’d carved pumpkins together growing up, the Bardeen family created the new kit together.

When pumpkins were out of season, they tested tool prototypes on watermelons. Bardeen discovered that rubbing flour across the marker holes turned them white for better visibility against the mottling.

The all-U.S.-manufactured tools, including different drill and scoop sizes, are snuggled into two tiers of plastic trays in a box that can be stored on edge like a book. The amber translucent polycarbonate tools match a Sierra Nevada beer Bardeen had one Saturday evening when the family had been out hunting for just the right amber. “I poured myself a beer, and I said, ‘What about that color?’ ”

The kit’s newspaper-style newsletter offers tips on everything from picking the right pumpkin to making “perfectly roasted seeds.”

And on the box the Grampa Bardeen set urges, “Carvé diem.”

Grampa Bardeen’s Family Pumpkin Carving Set is available online only:

• For $40 at

• For $45 at

To see tutorial videos related to pumpkin carving, search for “Grampa Bardeen” on

Win a carving set!

Send The Journal Times a photo of your jack-o’-lantern for a chance to win a Grampa Bardeen’s Family Pumpkin Carving Set.

How to enter: Email your photo to or post it to our Facebook page at by Oct. 31. The winning entry will be selected by Journal Times staff.


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Michael "Mick" Burke covers business and the Village of Sturtevant. He is the proud father of two daughters and owner of a fantastic, although rug-chewing, German shepherd dog.

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