It might seem there’s little reason to drive along Route 17 in coastal Georgia, unless of course, you’re trying to avoid I-95 traffic jams or are a local. But sometimes, you’ll find unexpected, off-the-beaten path inspiration during a leisurely drive along a road less traveled – a road like this one.
Among the auto body shops and various small, non-descript businesses just about 2 miles south of exit 87 of I-95, your eyes suddenly alight on a sea of driftwood. Amid the grays, whites, and tans of the spindly driftwood stands two metal poles with a sign Tuma’s Wood World crowned by two metal sea horses. Instantly, you feel the urge to stop, step in and see what this unusual place is all about.
A unique driftwood world
Almost as soon as the car stops, the store door swings open. A lively man with sparkling blue eyes flitting behind his glasses, steps out at you offering a hearty welcome. Ron Tuma, a man in his 60s with hair and mustache edged in white, wearing blue jeans and blue and white checkered shirt, asks with his notable Midwest drawl how can he help you.
It’s a bit hard to be sociable, even with such a likable man. That’s because all the driftwood works around you captivate your senses. You keep reaching for your iPhone to snap a photo. You are drawn to the lean-to porch with wicker chairs, driftwood alligator air plant planters, wooden wall plaques, and birds flitting among raw driftwood.
Ron is a connoisseur of driftwood found along the Georgia coastal shoreline. When you talk to him, you learn the nuances of behavior a woodworker must possess to access driftwood laden lands to select the juiciest pieces for his customers.
In fact, Ron speaks readily to his adventures fetching driftwood from the knees of cypress trees crawling with water moccasins in coastal waters infested with all sorts of critters near Richmond Hill, Georgia. His quest to discover driftwood is nothing less than a labor of love.
While the shop displays untold creations with this wood, the snake and fish heads painted on legs of various hanging pieces are conversation starters. Evidence of Tuma’s 42-years of experience making custom driftwood pieces abounds all around.
Tuma is quick to point out much of his work stems from creating a product from wood to reality by building a driftwood table, planter, or any other item a customer can imagine.
What's there to see?
On display in his 80-square foot showroom are a driftwood sofa table, two sofa tables with matching driftwood lamps, clocks, custom engravings, various other knick-knacks, a polished driftwood bench, and walls boasting polished wall hangers, planters, scones, and smaller pieces of decorative driftwood. And tucked in a corner are three 12” doll-sized rockers.
As we talk and admire his handiwork of tables, wall hanging, planters, and chairs, he offers to give us the “dime store” tour. He’s proud of the story plaque on display behind him.
In 1988, the Savannah Morning News ran a story on him. They heard he had been asked by the National Wildlife Federation to build a clock for the “President” with 12 silver medallions of endangered species in the position of the clocks numbers. Tuma laughs when he says he thought the clock was intended for was the president of the club. “I almost dropped the phone upon hearing the clock was being build out of California buckeye for [then] President Ronald Reagan”.
Ron will be the first to tell you he prefers working with some woods more than others. For example, the buckeye is a difficult wood to work with because of its hardness. Only a woodworker would know a detail like this one.
Our tour through the rest of the building reveals raw woods and numerous projects in process. His shop runs in an almost production line like operation. There’s workstation areas for cutting, sanding, lacquering, painting, and other preparatory areas for projects.
A band saw and sander level and smooth one side of a piece of bleached driftwood for a coffee table. A design area and an enclosed epoxy treatment area are nearby. Anna Murphy, one of two partner artists in-residence, was sanding a small piece of wood for a wall plaque.
Behind the facility are several yards of bleached driftwood and solid wood planks. There’s even an outhouse complete with a crescent moon over the door.
Where to go and how to get there
The next time you find yourself driving along I-95 just south of Savannah, GA, take exit 87 south and stop by Tuma’s Wood World. Ron’s craft and skill will inspire you. And you just may develop an irresistible urge to commission him to build your one-of-a-kind table or chair that will transform your dream to reality.
Tuma’s Wood World
6010 Highway 17 South [just south of I-95 (exit 87)]
Richmond Hill, GA 31324
Open: 10 am – 6 pm Tuesday – Saturday
Closed: Sunday – Monday
Coastal Georgia has some great restaurants. We live here. We know. Check these places out the next time you're in the area.
Skippers Fish Camp, Darien, GA (Exit 49 off of I-95)
The Sunbury Crab Company, Sunbury GA (Exit 76 off of I-95)
The Millhouse Steak House, Brunswick, GA (Exit 38 off of I-95)
Sal's Neighborhood (New York) Pizza, St Simons Island, GAÂ (Exit 38 off of I-95)
Fox's Pizza Den, Brunswick, GA
Some Great Places to See
Three Great Spots Along The Georgia Coast For Birdwatching Sunbury GA (Exit 76 off of I-95)
The American Prohibition Museum: The History of our Love-Hate Relationship with Alcohol, Savannah, GA (Exit 16 off of I-95 to Savannah)