The SMC Mastermind 3-inch circular saw may seem like an odd tool, but if you’ve ever worked on wood flooring or wanted an easier way to cut floor tile, this is your Swiss Army knife. SMC Mastermind Tools has once again developed an innovative tool that combines several unique features into one tool that accomplishes several tasks quite well. We pulled out the Compact Precision 3″ Circular Saw to replace several bad pieces of heart pine flooring and were pleasantly surprised at how well it performed.
SMC Mastermind 3-inch Circular Saw Build Quality
The SMC Mastermind 3-inch circular saw weighs 3 lbs and 13 ounces, making it very easy to manipulate and use with just one hand – the preferred method of moving the tool forward. The tool features a magnesium housing and an ABS plastic body that has a rubberized grip on the top which corresponds to where your palm rests when holding the saw in your right hand. While the tool can technically be used by right- or left-handed individuals, the blade is distinctly left-mounted and your sight lines are best viewed on that side.
There are several orange plastic pieces on the SMC Mastermind Circular Saw, including the trigger, SmartTrack LED/laser switch, swivel head lock, blade guard release lever and depth-of-cut locking lever. These pieces are colored to help them stand out and be easily accessed during the use of this tool. The large trigger paddle switch has a safety release switch that slides back before you can safely activate the tool. The SMC Compact 3″ Saw holds a position that naturally lifts the blade up and away from the cutting surface, forcing a plunge cut every time you begin. This is a nice design and a great feature for a tool designed for tile and floor work. To plunge the blade you simply grab the lower blade guard and depress the blade guard release lever with your left hand while guiding the saw’s body down with your right hand. To set the depth, you use the handy depth-of-cut lever, which moves the block and stops the handle from dropping the blade further than the depth-of-cut indicator.
The SmartTrack laser light/LED switch is an either/or operation. You can slide it back to engage the laser, which rides in front of the blade and creates a guideline for your cutting path, or forward to light up the LED light and illuminate the general area around the blade. We found the laser to only be a rough guide, but it was certainly effective enough to keep us from plunging the blade at an angle to the direction of the cut. You can’t adjust the laser as it is factory set. Not only is the depth of cut adjustable from 0 to 7/8″, you can also press the swivel head lock to rotate the handle of the tool to better match your position when cutting. This is perfect for switching from cutting on the floor, to standing and cutting tile on a table. It also allows you to get closer to a boundary, like a wall, when starting a cut.
Field Testing the SMC Mastermind 3-inch Circular Saw
We used a reduction attachment to connect our shop vacuum to the included vac hose adapter. The adapter fits onto the dust ejection chute which is located on the right side of the 3″ Circular Saw. What happened next defied my wildest dreams. We cut three parallel lines into our first piece of heart pine flooring, using the laser as our guide. When we were finished there was hardly a spec of dust on or around the cutting area. The vacuum system did an impeccable job of keeping the work area clean.
As for cutting, plunging was something we simply had to get used to. With a plunge cut and custom depth, the width of the blade differs based on the setting. At 1/2″, for example, the blade will be roughly 2-1/4″ in diameter. At a full 7/8″ depth, the blade is 2-3/4″ across. This means that it’s important to know where the blade will be when you push it down – especially important during cross cuts. The length-of-cut guide/ruler located on the lower blade guard adjacent to the blade is a great way to know exactly where the 20-tooth tungsten carbide saw blade will drop. With a typical circular saw you can eye your cut as you go, but with the SMC 3″ Compact Saw you really have to use the ruler. There is simply no way to see where you are cutting since both sides of the blade are obscured by the upper and lower blade guards. This was the biggest drawback to the tool, and it’s not a minor one since it reduces the usefulness of the tool on precision cuts.
Cutting was easy. The ultra-thin kerf Tungsten Carbide Tip saw blade loves wood and made mincemeat out of the hardwood flooring material. The saw is quiet on its own, about 92dB SPL, but gets rather loud during use, though not in comparison to the shop vac we used. Once the saw was plunged into place, a firm, consistent forward movement took it through the material without a ton of resistance. The vac hose adapter tended to slip off, so it’s important to have enough slack in your shop vac line to keep it from wanting to pull. Here is where some sort of locking mechanism would have been preferred to the simple slip connection. About 21 cuts later, not only did the blade still have all of its teeth, it was still razor sharp to the touch. It was nice to know that the included thin kerf blade was of decent quality and not some “filler” that came from the lowest bidder. This is especially important since, as far as we can tell, SMC Mastermind Tools is the only place to get a replacement blade (for $15). A 3″ Diamond Grit blade is also available for tile cutting (also $15).
Trouble in Paradise
During use the most prominent trouble we experienced could be summed up by the statement “Where the heck is the blade?” The sight lines on the Mastermind 3″ Circular Saw are nonexistent, putting the “Precision” part of this tool in jeopardy. Since both the upper blade guard and lower blade guard are opaque, there is really no way to see exactly where the edge of the blade is cutting, even if you get right up on the tool. The blade is completely invisible once it is in the plunged position. What this meant was that we had to rely on the laser guide and the ruler measurements on each side of the lower guard and base in order to know where the tool was cutting. When you are trying to cross-cut a piece of flooring and don’t want to encroach on the adjacent piece, this can be very uncomfortable. Additionally, the ruler is really just a sticker, so if it eventually rubs off, you’re going to be in trouble and flying blind. We recommend figuring out a way to integrate a window into the front of the tool, or at the very least changing the base to include a hearty recessed ruler that won’t rub off with time.
Even with the troublesome sight lines, the SMC Mastermind 800344 Compact Precision 3-inch Circular Saw is an incredibly handy tool. Until this review we’d really never seen anything like it. If you can learn to trust the laser and base ruler you’ll do fine. Honestly, we’ve never seen a solution like this that makes renovating floors an almost dust-free experience. With a shop vac and some careful experimentation, we’re confident that you can take this tool and perform miracles on a floor renovation project or small tiling job. For our Performance rating we gave this saw a 5/10, a rating that would have been much higher if we could have recommended this tool as a precision cut instrument. In terms of value, the Compact Precision 3-inch Saw is still a steal and we awarded it an 8/10. At under $130 this is a specialty tool that every renovator should have in their arsenal. To demonstrate the ability to go into a home and replace a piece of wood flooring without causing a dust storm is something that will impress any client.