The NATI Blue Max brand is possibly not one of the most well-known when it comes to chainsaws, but with over 50 years of experience in the tools business, they are certainly worth considering.
NATI is the shortened name of North American Tool Industries, who own several other brands besides Blue Max in the professional and home user market, including Yard Dog, Professional Woodworker and Speedway Pro.
Their gas powered 20” inch chainsaw is aimed squarely at the home user who needs the power to safely cut through up to 18-inch diameter trees and branches. Although a homeowner chainsaw, it does come with all the features you need including a professional grade chain, anti-vibration handle, quick stop chain brake and auto chain oiler to name but a few.
All this and at a price that’s considerably less than many of its direct competitors from the more recognized brands. We’re going to take a closer look at the Blue Max chainsaw to find out if it’s one you should include in your shortlist when looking for a gas-powered 20” model.
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Features of the Blue Max 53543 Chainsaw
As we mentioned above, even though the Blue Max 20” comes in at a pretty low price for a decent chainsaw, it does not skimp on features and in fact has some you would only expect to find on top-end machines. Let’s do a quick run-down of them and then go into more detail:
• 51.5cc 2.8hp 2-stroke air cooled engine
• Maximum speed 10,500 RPM
• 20” bar
• 0.325” Pitch / 0.58” Gauge anti-kickback 76 link chain
• Chain brake
• Anti-vibration handle
• Auto chain oiler
• Chain oil tank – 8.5 fl 0z / 0.24l
• Easy access chain tensioning with included multi-tool
• Tool-less air filter cleaning/removal
• Fuel tank -17.5 fl oz / 0.5l
• Fuel gauge window
• Spiked bumper for leverage when cutting
• Weight 15.5lbs/7kg with chain and guard. 12.3lbs/5.6kg without.
• EPA Approved
• 1-year warranty
• Non-CARB compliant
What’s in the box?
When you get your new chainsaw home and open the box, you should find the following inside:
• Saw chain
• Guide bar
• Guide bar cover
• Fuel mixing container
• User manual
The warranty on this product runs for 1 year from date of purchase and covers the usual defects in workmanship and materials. Warranty service is provided by authorized service centers and in the manual, you will find an email address and phone number for NATI customer service to find out where these are.
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How heavy is it?
Without the saw chain and guide bar the Blue Max 20” comes in at 12.3lbs or 5.6kg. That’s about middle of the road for a 20” chainsaw and makes it suitable for most able-bodied casual users using it for short periods.
With a weight of 15.5lbs/7kg when fitted with the chain and bar this machine might be too heavy for constant use, but as it’s not aimed at the professional user we don’t think this should be a problem.
How easy is it to put the chainsaw together?
The main tasks you will need to complete when assembling your new chainsaw is to attach the guide bar and saw chain. If you’re planning on using the chainsaw, then you should at the very least be able to follow the instructions in the manual on how to assemble it.
They are very straightforward with pictures detailing exactly what goes where and once you have completed this, you will have a good understanding on how to maintain and adjust things. We will look at the regular checks and maintenance you will need to perform later on.
Once you have the bar and chain in place and correctly tensioned, then you will need to add fuel and fill up the chain oil reservoir. See the section further down on how to tension this chainsaw correctly and details on the auto chain oiler.
An important thing to note is that a new chain will stretch the most the first time you use it, so make sure to check the tension every 15 minutes or so for the first hour.
What engine powers the Blue Max 20” Chainsaw?
The Blue Max chainsaw has a 51.5cc, 2.8hp engine that provides more than enough power for this large chainsaw. It also has a maximum speed of 10,500 RPM which can really help the saw to deal with those tough, larger jobs.
This is a 2-stroke air cooled engine which makes it light and powerful. As such it does not have a separate oil tank so runs on a petrol/oil mix. The manual recommends a mix ratio of 40 parts petrol to 1 part oil and there is a handy fuel mixing container provided as part of the kit to help get this right.
What size bar and chain does this model come with?
As this is a 20” chainsaw, it comes with a guide bar that provides 20 inches of cutting length.
The chain has a pitch of 0.325” and a gauge of 0.58” which is a standard size for this type of chainsaw. The chain has 76 links which helps the saw to make quicker cuts than other similar models. You will find that most chains from other manufacturers only have 72 links.
The Blue Max chain is also classed as a low-kickback model to reduce the amount of reactive force known as kickback that can be extremely dangerous. The saw also has a chain brake to help prevent injury from kickback.
How does the chain brake work?
The chain brake on the Blue Max is operated by the front guard on the saw. When pulled back towards the front handle, the brake is disengaged. This is the normal position when working.
If the nose or tip of the guide bar touches an object or the chain gets pinched within the cut, then the guide bar may kick back towards the operator. The guard is designed so that if this happens, the hand on the front handle will roll forward slightly and push the guard out. This stops the chainsaw immediately, both the engine and the chain at the same time.
Together with the low-kickback chain, this provides an effective safety device to help prevent serious injury when kickback occurs. However, it’s no substitute for learning how to use a chainsaw properly in the first place!
Is this chainsaw easy to start?
In common with most 2-stroke powered chainsaws these days, following the correct procedure for either a cold start or a warm start will increase your success rate in starting the Blue Max with the minimum of fuss.
Many will think of this as ‘old school’ starting as there is no automatic choke or primer on the Max 20”. The manual has a detailed procedure but in summary:
Remove the guide bar cover.
Place chainsaw upright on the ground making sure the chain is not touching the ground or anything else. Push the front guard forward to engage the chain brake and set the ignition switch to the ON position. Now fully pull out the choke to the CLOSE position.
Hold the chainsaw firmly by the front handle with your left hand and place your right foot on the rear handle safeguard (the part touching the ground). With your free hand pull lightly on the recoil starter cord until you feel resistance, then pull it rapidly. Allow rope to return fully and repeat until you hear the engine try to start, usually after 4 or 5 pulls. Push the choke back to the OPEN position
Repeat the recoil pulling procedure again until it starts. Carefully pull back the front guard and let the chainsaw run idle for about 30 seconds and you are ready to go. If the engine is not running smoothly try pulling the choke out half way and once it’s warmed, then push it back in.
Be careful not to pull the recoil cord out too far as it’s quite short on this model. The end of the cord is colored red as a warning so if you see that, then you’ve pulled it out too much.
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This is basically the same as the cold start except the choke does not need to be pulled out and stays in the OPEN position. Then proceed from the same point above as if you had just pushed the choke in.
How loud is the Blue Max and what are the vibration ratings?
Once you’ve got the chainsaw going you will find it’s pretty loud, so wearing ear protection is an absolute must along with other safety equipment we will cover later.
The official noise rating for this machine is a sound pressure level at the operator’s ear of 102.89dB(A) and a guaranteed sound power level of 115dB(A).
Vibration ratings are pretty high despite the anti-vibration handles fitted to this machine. At the front handle, you can expect a reading of 7.256 m/s2 and at the rear handle, 8.497 m/s2. These are higher ratings than the more expensive top end chainsaws but compares to ones in the cheaper end of the market where this model sits.
We recommend using anti-vibration gloves with this model, see our section on safety equipment below for more information.
How do you stop the Blue Max?
It’s important not to use the chain brake to stop the chainsaw except in an emergency as overuse could cause rapid wear in the braking mechanism.
Instead, all you need to do to stop it is release the throttle interlock and throttle and let the machine run down to an idle speed for 10 seconds or so. Note that when the engine is idling, the chain may still be moving initially.
Next just flip the ignition switch down to the STOP position to kill the engine and wait for the saw chain to stop if it’s still moving before setting down.
How does the automatic chain oiler work and how do you check it?
As part of the assembly process, you will have been directed to fill up the chain oil tank so that the auto oiler can deposit some oil on the chain as it’s running. Using the chainsaw without oil or failing to check it’s working properly will damage the saw.
The oiler automatically deposits some chain oil direct to the chain when it’s in use from a small port under the drive cover near where the bar attaches to the saw body.
If the chain runs dry or there’s not enough oil getting through, then you lose cutting efficiency and the saw chain and guide bar will wear rapidly. If you see smoke or the bar is becoming discolored, stop and check the oiler is working and that there is oil in the tank!
You can check this very quickly. Just point the saw at a flat piece of wood, a fence or the end of a cut trunk for instance. Start your chainsaw up and rev it a few times, making sure you do not actually touch the wood you’re pointing at of course. After a few seconds, you should see a spray of oil fly off the nose onto the wood.
If you don’t get the spray, then turn off the chainsaw and check for oil levels and blockages. There is also an adjustment screw to increase the amount of oil getting onto the chain located underneath the body.
Prolonging the life of your chain is mainly due to getting two things right, first making sure it’s lubricated properly and second, that it is always at the correct tension.
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How do you correctly tension the saw chain?
As we know, getting the correct tension on the saw chain is vitally important on a chainsaw.
Too loose and you increase the chances of kickback or the chain jumping out of the guide bar. Either of which could cause serious injury to the operator. Needless to say, a loose chain will also increase wear on the drive sprocket, chain and guide bar as well.
Tightening the chain too much can be equally as damaging as this can cause engine overload.
To check the tension of the chain is pretty straightforward. Just make sure the saw is switched off and the brake is engaged. Then place the saw on a flat surface and lift the chain at the middle point along the top of the bar until you feel the weight of the saw. If the gap between the chain and the bar is about 1/10 of an inch or 2-4mm, then chain tension is fine.
Another way to look at it is that the drive links should still be engaged in the bar but there should be a small gap showing between the chain and the bar. Also, the chain should move around the bar smoothly with the chain brake disengaged.
So, if you’ve checked this and think you need to tighten the chain up, how do you do It on this model?Luckily, it’s pretty easy and you just need the multi-tool included with the chainsaw to do it.
First of all, it’s always a good idea to unplug the spark plug beforehand just to be sure the saw cannot start up. Then loosen the two retaining nuts that secure the bar to the saw body and lift the nose of the bar up. Keep it elevated whilst you adjust the tension. You will notice that the chain along the bottom of the bar is sagging quite a bit.
The tension adjuster is the screw underneath the retaining nuts loosened earlier and needs to be turned clockwise with the multi-tool to tighten the chain. Turn this until the chain along the bottom pulls up so it’s just touching the bar.
Once you get to that point then tighten the retaining nuts, re-check the tension and make sure the chain moves freely and smoothly.
How do you remove and clean the air filter?
You don’t need any tools to get at the air filter on this chainsaw which is great. Just unscrew the knob on the top just above the ignition switch and remove the cover. Inside you will find a good quality air filter and the spark plug.
Remove the filter and tap it on a hard surface to knock out any dust. If it still looks dirty then you can wash it with clear water but it will need drying thoroughly before use.
Our tip if using this in a dusty environment is to have a spare one on standby so you always have a clean and dry one on hand.
Once clean, pour on some new machine or air filter oil and let it soak in, then give the filter a gentle squeeze to get rid of any surplus oil before replacing in the machine. The oil will help keep the filter in good condition and performing well.
Replace the cover and tighten the knob to secure it when done.
What maintenance and safety checks should I perform before using the NATI Blue Max 20” chainsaw?
All the detailed maintenance tasks and how to check for wear in the saw chain and guide bar can be found in the user manual, but here’s a summary of what you should be doing.
Besides keeping the saw generally clean and checking that everything is in good working order, there are a few tasks you should perform before using a chainsaw each time, or just after you finish using it.
First of all, make sure the chain and guide bar are free of sawdust and other debris. Use a small brush to get in any hard to reach areas.
Then remove and inspect the air filter (see earlier section on this), clean and oil as necessary. Clear the air vents to make sure there is a good circulation of air.
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Next check the chain is tensioned correctly using the procedure we outlined earlier.
Following this, check the auto oiler is working properly and is topped up, again following our guide further up. Finally, check the chain brake is working properly.
That’s about it for the checks you should do before using the saw each time. There are some other maintenance tasks to do at longer intervals, though.
For instance, after around 25 hours of use, you need to check and clean the spark plug. You should also regularly dismantle the guide bar and chain, so you can clean out any debris. This allows you to get at the oiler port as well, which you can clean out with a thin piece of wire or a matchstick.
Another task that often gets forgotten is to lube the sprocket at the end of the guide bar. The manual says to do this every time you use it, but you may find you can do this after every 10 or so hours of use depending on the conditions and how you use it. It’s quite simple to do, just apply grease with a gun through the lubrication hole in the bar.
How can you tell if the saw chain needs sharpening?
After a while, the chain will need sharpening no matter what type of cutting you do, but especially if you have been cutting a lot of damp wood.
You can usually tell it needs sharpening because either you need to use a lot of downward pressure to get it to cut through, or it starts to pull to the left or right. You might also notice that the wood chips being deposited are very small.
Unless you know what you’re doing, it’s best to take the chain to a service center to have it sharpened. If you want to do it yourself, make sure you get hold of a good quality sharpening kit and follow the instructions very carefully. The user manual has an excellent guide towards the end on how to sharpen the chain successfully.
What should I do to store the chainsaw at the end of the season?
Before storing the chainsaw over the winter, or for long periods through the year (more than 30 days), make sure you empty any remaining fuel into a suitable container. Try and start the machine after emptying to get rid of any fuel in the fuel lines and carburetor.
It’s a good idea to try and run down the oil as you come towards a point where you’re going to store it for a while, by only keeping enough in there to keep it running. It’s best not to store it with a full tank of oil to avoid leaks and spillages.
Clean the saw as described in the maintenance section above and make sure the chain guard is in place. Disconnect the spark plug so that the saw cannot be started unintentionally.
Store the chainsaw in its original package or in a dust cover in an upright position.
What are the reviews like for the Blue Max 20” Chainsaw?
There are not too many reviews available online for this model of Blue Max, but the ones we’ve been able to find are mostly positive with the general view that it is a good value product.
There don’t seem to be any concerns with reliability or quality. The only mention of things to watch out for are the short recoil cord that we mentioned earlier, and to be careful of the hot exhaust in case the wood catches fire. This is something to be aware of with any chainsaw as the exhaust muffler can get extremely hot.
What safety equipment do I need?
As with any chainsaw, there are certain items of protective gear and clothing we think are an absolute necessity for safe usage:
A helmet and safety goggles will protect your head and eyes from branches, sawdust, and other flying debris. Suitable hearing protection will protect your ears from the very loud engine noise a chainsaw like this makes. You can buy a safety helmet that has both eye and ear protection in one unit.
Anti-vibration gloves provide some protection from the damage caused by handling power machinery. There are gloves available specifically for use with chainsaws and they are well worth investing in. Machinery such as this can cause a condition called HAVS (hand-arm vibration syndrome, also known as vibration white finger) which is not pleasant.
If working in a dusty environment, then a dust mask and/or respiratory protection is advisable.
Get some chainsaw chaps, these go over your pants and protect your legs. Wear non-slip protective footwear and tight fitting protective clothes. Make sure you are not wearing anything that is baggy or loose fitting and tie long hair back.
Check out our article on chainsaw safety tips for further advice on how to use your new chainsaw.
Overall, the Blue Max 20” Chainsaw is a decent saw at a very low price. You may not get some of the higher end features such as effective anti-vibration dampening or instant starting, but it will do the job.
If you need a good workhorse 20” chainsaw for occasional use on a tight budget, then the Blue Max 20 inch chainsaw could be just what you’re looking for.
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Last update on 2023-02-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API