You go in the direction of rotation to retard
Son of a... Damn. Wish I knew those existed. Would have made things so much easier. Might as well still get one (or more) since I know I'll be doing this again.Pick up a distributor wrench, they'll reach around the distributor in tight places. Back in the day of tuneup's these were a must have tool. A lot of times you'll see them in the bargain bins at some of the parts stores for only a few bucks.
Ha!But your ears don't get as greasy if you use a wrench.
In the past I have lined up the correct timing mark on the balancer, say 8 degrees BTDC for example, pulled the #1 plug, ground it then turned the distributor until the plug fired. You've got to play around with it but you can get pretty close. Those were good old shade tree days.Remember in days long gone when necessity prevailed and had to set timing " by ear " ,can't do that nowadays