The cheapest and slowest way to reload is with the Lee Classic Loader, for $29 on Midway and a hammer you are good to go. Yes, I said a hammer. There is nothing quite like setting a primer with a hammer, it interesting, but I have yet to have one go off. The whole kit is the size of 2 packs of cigarettes, and uses power volume measurements, not weights. Since, you are not going to be hot rodding the 38 special, I don’t see this as an issue. I really like these, even though I don’t use mine very much, the idea that I can reload anywhere is great, it might be the only reloading kit I keep in retirement, also 38 special is pretty forgiving in terms of getting the “power” right, since you don’t have to rely in to cycle a slide. You just have to keep it between, bullet getting out of the barrel and blowing up.
The next option up the food chain so to speak is a Lee Hand Press and set of Lee Dies in 38 special, that will set you back $85. This will double the amount of ammo you can make in the same time, ~50 rounds a hour. This includes the priming piece which you will need. You can get a bare press for $35, and do a hand primer, which is quicker and runs $21 plus a caliber specify holder for another $4.
If you use a little plastic scoop, you have very specify loads that you can make, since the scoops coming in different sizes but are not infinitely adjustable. The Lee Powder Measurer is fully adjustable letting you tailor you load better and runs $26
A reloading block is also helpful to hold cases for powder charging @ $6 regardless of which solution you decide on above.
Now all the prices quoted are from Midwayusa.com and I suspect there are other deals to be had. Ebay is also a great option.
The Economics of reloading 38 special
1000 small pistol primers cost about $32-35 per 1000
Power lets assume Winchester Powder 231 @$23 per pound (7000gr) with an charge of about 4.5gr, that is +1500 rounds
1000 158gr Berry’s projectiles @ $98.50.
Assume brass is free, but you can buy once fired 38 brass for 1000 for $50
Here is the breakdown
($35+$23+$98)=~16 cent a round, or $8.00 a box.
Even if you bought Tula by the case, it’s still 20 cent, steel cased and only a 130gr bullet.