How to Make a Shrunken Head

shrunken head

Making a shrunken head for Halloween is fun and it only takes a few items to get started. To create a shrunken head you need just a few items. Gather up an apple, granny smith, red delicious, whatever, pretty much any apple will work. The basic steps for making a shrunken head from an apple are: remove the skin, coat with lemon juice, carve features, soak in saltwater, let shrink for 2 weeks, decorate with optional features. See it’s so easy anyone can do it. Plus if you really mess up you can always eat the apple!

Supplies you will need

  • Apples (bigger is better)
  • Knife (a butter knife will wok just fine)
  • Vegetable peeler
  • A few tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup of salt
  • Several cups of water
  • String or chopstick

Start with a nice big apple that has the stem still attached. You will eventually hang the head to dry from the stem so keep it attached. It’s also nice to keep the stem so you can point out that it’s really an apple when your head is completely shrunken. If your apple is missing a stem you can thread a wire through the core and use a large button to support the bottom of the head. You could also just push a chopstick into the bottom of the apple. Use whatever you have on hand. The important thing is to keep all the apple flesh in the air so it can dry somewhat evenly.

Remove the skin from the apple with the potato peeler or knife. You can leave a little at the top and bottom. A freshly peeled apple will begin to brown as the oxygen in the air begins to oxidize the surface of the fruit. We can slow this down by coating or dunking the fruit in a bit of lemon juice.

One of the hardest parts of carving a shrunken head to where to start? I’ll show you how I carve my heads, then you can use this as a starting point for your own creations. Step one is to create the ears. Turn your apple so you have plenty of working material on the sides. Start by marking off a big square on the side. Now remove the fruit around the outside of the square to reveal a sort of blocky looking ear.


Apple ready to be carved, Creating the ear for your head, Head with two ears

Shape up the ear by cutting the corners back and boring an ear canal. Remember, we are going to shrink this head so carve the features BIG. Small details will be lost after shrinking so go for really BIG features. Once you have one ear completed, turn you head around and make another one on the other side. If you want the ear to really look good when dry, carve a little indent around the base where it attaches to the head. When dry the ear will have a bit more depth.


Outline the eyes and nose, Carve the eye sockets and nose, Ready for a salt soak

Now to start the face outline the forehead and nose with a few simple lines. Once you have this in place bring your knife in from the sides to create an eye socket. You may want to cut the lines around the nose a bit deeper than the forehead line. Be careful when making the eye sockets that you don’t pop off the nose! Use a pencil or chopstick to create a hole for the eye in the socket. Once the apple is dry you can push in a whole clove or pepper corn here for an eyeball.

Under the nose carve a little space to separate the nose from the lips. If you nose is really big, you might be able to drill in two nostril holes that will show up when dry. If you nose is small don’t bother. Often you won’t have enough material for a big set of lips since the bottom of the apple usually tapers down. If you have enough, make them big and make sure to make an upper and lower lip. Cut a deep slit between them so as they dry they will become separate lips. Another option for the mouth is to just make a deep cut and when things are all dried out you can add some dry rice for teeth!

Now you are ready for the salt water soaking. Ideally you want to soak your head for 24 hours in the salt water. This will help draw water out of the apple to help with shrinking. If you’re impatient, just give it a short soak and then hang it up to dry. Ideally you want a nice dry location for your head. I would avoid trying to dry the head in a moist bathroom! You can speed up the drying process a bit by placing the apple in the oven at a really low temp (~150 degrees) for an hour or two before setting aside to dry. After about 1-2 weeks your head should be ready. Be sure to check on your head periodically and if any mold is growing you can remove it with a cotton swab.

If you really want to dress up your head, you can add whole cloves for eyes, maybe rice for teeth, some yarn or fake hair on top might look nice. Add coloring to your head with charcoal or use food coloring on a cotton swab as a paint. If you have an old Halloween wig around you can use some of that hair to make it look more spooky. It’s up to you!

While I’ve never tried it, I’ve heard you can use a craft sealer, wood sealer or shellac to seal and preserve your head. Make a few heads and experiment to see what works for you.

That’s it! Use your imagination, have fun and let us know how it works for you!


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About the author

Carl Nelson is the Chief Scientist at Imagination Station in Toledo, Ohio. He holds a Masters Degree in Experimental Physics from Michigan State University and has been having fun exploring (exploding?) science in Science Centers for the past 20 years.


2 Responses to “How to Make a Shrunken Head”
  1. Jamie says:

    I was so excited to see this activity to do with my kids. I’m homeschooling them now & I’m always looking for fun science experiments. This also reminds me of my Granny who passed away, she used to make apple head dolls & they were amazing!! Thank you!!

  2. Lola king says:

    Ghostly! I tried it and everybody loved it when I showed it off at my bday party today(Halloween)

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