chris.shearwood wrote: there should be some provision made so that your bamboo stick doesn't disappear down the plug hole if the motor is turned too far.
The first photograph shows the timing stick I made for my 1928 Ariel, with the wire to make sure it doesn't disappear down the plug hole and with two notches corresponding to the two values of inches-before-TDC I found in manuals.
The second photo shows the similar timing stick I made for my 'Competition'-model Gold Star. The reason for the 20-degree notch on it is the hard-stop tool I use stops the piston at ~20-deg. so this notch is useful for the initial approximate setting of the large diameter timing protractor disk I use, shown in the third photo.
After using the timing stick to initially set the protractor at ~20-deg. I then install the hard stop in the spark plug hole and then I can then sneak up on the stop with a series of small movements of the engine, rather than possibly having to turn the engine through nearly 300-degrees before hitting the stop (causing frustration that can result in the piston hitting the stop harder than it should). As can be seen, with this protractor it is easy to resolve better than 1/4-degree.
The fourth photograph shows I have TDC painted on the crankshaft nut of this Gold Star to identify the position of TDC on the compression stroke. Clearly, this is only an approximate setting of the crankshaft, but it is invaluable in avoiding having to peer into the plug hole to be sure I don't carefully set the timing to 39.00-degrees on the exhaust
Timing sticks and cigarette paper have their uses in emergencies, but this is 2019, not 1950. I only use these timing sticks in "emergencies," such as on the road to reset the timing if it slips, which is precisely what happened on the Ariel one day on the Cannonball Rally last fall. Or, to quickly get the timing close to the required value before doing it carefully. Note that when dealing with an "emergency" on the side of the road it would be particularly easy to lose a timing stick like Simon's down the hole.
The inductance of the primary circuit changes by a large amount when the points open so I use an inductance meter[*] to determine the precise location of the opening which, in combination with the large protractor, lets me reproducibly set the timing on my bikes to no worse than ~0.2 degrees. Further, the inconvenient fact that the timing stick is on one side of the engine but the points are on the other side is irrelevant with an inductance meter and protractor.
[*]Although good ones cost more, LCR meters from China that are perfectly adequate for this are available on eBay for less than $20.